California bill that would allow owners of properties of up to 15,000 acres to log in perpetuity without submitting new harvest plans progresses to governor's desk after lawmaker excludes area including Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties

SANTA CRUZ, California , September 24, 2013 () – A logging bill that ran into a buzz saw of local controversy has landed on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, who -- after the Santa Cruz Mountains were carved out of the bill -- he is expected to sign it.

The bill, AB 904, allows all but large landowners to pursue timber plans in perpetuity, as long as they comply with stricter environmental standards than those required of routine harvests. But the bill alarmed some local environmentalists, who worried about the removal of barriers to unwanted logging.

"In our community this was a solution in search of a problem," said former state lawmaker Fred Keeley, the county treasurer and vice president of the board at Los Altos-based Sempervirens Fund. "We like the playing field the way it is."

As originally proposed by Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, the bill would have allowed landowners up to 15,000 acres to create long-term, conservation-based forest management plans that include a ban on clear-cutting -- something Santa Cruz County already prohibits.

But once approved, landowners could log the property without submitting new harvest plans. That cut the public out of the process, Keeley said, adding that what's good for the North Coast might not be good for the Santa Cruz Mountains.

"In our community there's a really, really big difference between timber harvesting where we are and timber harvesting up in Chesbro's district," Keeley said. "You're really timber harvesting in an urban-rural interface, or a suburban area."

The Sierra Club and local environmentalists opposed the bill, but some conservation groups, such as the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, supported it. So did Davenport-based Big Creek Lumber, with a representative saying bill opponents took an anti-environmental position and that their real aims are to end logging.

"The really insidious thing is, we're able to provide our local community with sustainable products at a local level," Big Creek's Bob Berlage said. "Every time you take an acre out of production or make it so expensive that (a landowner) can't afford a sustainable harvest, not one 2-by-4 will go unsold. It will just come from somewhere else."

Big Creek employs close to 200, but Berlage said the costs associated with winning repeated approvals for timber harvests have taken some local timberlands out of production. He also pointed out that nothing in the bill would supersede water quality, fire safety or endangered species laws, nor prohibit their enforcement by county prosecutors.

"If it makes sense to grow strawberries here, it probably makes sense to grow our lumber here as long as it's done responsibly," said Berlage, who was critical of the way the Legislature amended to the bill.

Keeley said he worked his contacts in the state Legislature to have an area known as the southern subdistrict, which includes Santa Cruz, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, excluded from the bill. That move kept the status quo on local timber rules.

Keeley said he did not get involved due to concern about specific tracts of lands. In fact, Sempervirens Fund is expected to harvest 8,000 acres of property above Davenport now known as the Cemex Redwoods.

"It's really that this system has worked out real well for decades," Keeley said.

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