Environmentalists and the timber industry have reached tentative agreement on a plan to reduce timber harvesting in California and to limit the practice of clear-cutting forests, environmentalists confirmed Thursday.
The agreement, designed to prevent a divisive ballot campaign like last year’s costly fight over two rival timber initiatives, would bind logging companies to a policy of “sustained yield.” Under such a plan, timber companies would limit their harvest on privately held lands to the annual growth rate of the trees.
The proposal, developed by negotiators representing the Sierra Club and Sierra Pacific Industries, still must be approved by the rest of the timber industry and the environmental community.
The tentative pact was applauded by state Senate Majority Leader Barry Keene (D-Benicia), who has introduced legislation that could be used to place the agreement into state law.
“The time to reach agreement on the issues is now, while flexibility remains and before initiative petitions are circulated and qualified,” Keene said. “The alternative of a superheated, divisive, expensive winner-take-all initiative is unacceptable.”
None of the parties involved would discuss details of the agreement. But Warner Chabot, a spokesman for the Sierra Club, said the proposal constituted a compromise on many of the issues environmentalists pushed for last year in their unsuccessful ballot measure, Proposition 130.
“We accepted provisions that were less stringent than we advocated in Proposition 130,” he said. “If we have an agreement that is not altered, then that would eliminate the need for major environmental organizations to put another measure on the ballot.”
Among its provisions, Proposition 130 would have banned clear-cutting in all California forests, prohibited logging companies from taking more than 60% of the total timber volume in a given area, and required loggers to leave trees representing all ages standing.
Specifically, Chabot said, the pact disclosed Thursday calls for a policy of sustained yield to prevent what environmentalists charge has been massive overcutting of forests in California.
The negotiators reached agreement on reducing the amount of clear-cutting, in which all the trees in a given area are cut down. In addition, the proposal includes greater protection for old-growth forests, watersheds and streams.
The plan also provides for greater participation by environmentalists on the state Board of Forestry, which oversees the logging industry, and greater powers for the Department of Fish and Game in regulating logging.
Representatives of the timber industry could not be reached for comment on the proposal. But earlier in the week they complained that reports of a compromise were “premature.”
Last year, environmentalists and the timber industry fought a bitter battle over Proposition 130, the environmentalists’ measure, and Proposition 138, a rival measure sponsored by the industry. Altogether, both sides spent $17 million on the campaign, which resulted in the defeat of both initiatives.
One provision of Proposition 130 not covered by the tentative agreement was the acquisition of the Headwaters Forest, 3,000 acres of ancient redwoods near Eureka. Environmentalists are backing a separate measure by Keene that would authorize bond funds for the purchase of the forest.
With the backing of Gov. Pete Wilson, the Board of Forestry voted in January to prohibit logging on 564 acres of the redwood forest. The governor also supports efforts to acquire the property.