2 May 2010, 9:28pm
Private land policies
by admin

State boards deliver third strike to timberland owners

By Dennis Possehn, California Registered Professional Forester

From the Redding Record Searchlight, May 2, 2023 [here]

Two state boards and a federal agency have recently passed regulations and policy that cumulatively, in my opinion, could result in the largest timberland conversion in state history.

This is a conversion, because timber and the value thereof, owned by small private forest landowners, is no longer the highest and best use of the land — even though they own approximately 50 percent of the state’s private timberland. The cost of regulatory compliance, to most small timberland owners, is more than the timber is worth.

Strike 1: The State Board of Forestry passed new timber harvesting regulations for many watersheds adding protection for salmon and steelhead, effective this January 1. The regulation was a kneejerk reaction to actual or threatened lawsuits from environmentalists, and the benefit to the fish will largely be imagined. The new regulation included a controversial taking of 20- to 60-foot strips of private timber along larger streams — without compensation to landowners. These are no-cut zones, and landowners are prohibited from forever harvesting trees in these areas. They are, however, required to pay taxes on the underlying land. The Board of Forestry also broadened winter regulations to include the period October 15 through April 30, then banned any tire ruts during this period. Many rural folks cannot drive out their driveway during the winter and meet this rule.

Strike 2: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service changed its northern spotted owl survey standards from six night surveys in one year to seven surveys each year for two years, effective this March 1. Net effect: small private landowners have to “hoot” for two years prior to cutting and selling any trees, doubling their cost and severely limiting their ability to respond to market conditions or personal financial needs.

Strike 3: The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has adopted a new $1,226.40 fee to all landowners harvesting timber, effective April 1. Landowner “A” harvesting on 20 acres has to pay the same $1,226.40 as landowner “B” logging on a 1,500-acre tract. The water quality fee is in addition to an already existing $941.25 fee charged by the Department of Fish and Game.

State boards are created to add expertise and science into the regulations, something the Legislature would find difficult to do. Board members serve at the pleasure of the governor, and historically state boards are highly political positions, as members can be replaced anytime by a simple phone call or confirmed — or not — by the state Senate. Thus, “political science” is the only science involved in many of the decisions. One wonders if board members would better serve the public by sticking to their principles, rather than voting for a regulation that is clearly destructive.

Large industrial owners can better weather the regulation storms, adapt and keep operating, but small private landowners are being pushed out of business.

The environmentalists’ main goal appears to be applying pressure and limiting clearcutting, but the net effect is putting out of business small landowners who have prudently been practicing selective harvesting.

Many times it takes honey rather than vinegar to get things done, thus the solution may be for Sacramento to encourage and reward landowners who selectively harvest, rather than driving them out of business.

Dennis Possehn, CA RPF #1759, lives in Anderson, CA.

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