Governor Plans to Veto Forest Bill, Aides Say
Aides to Gov. Pete Wilson said the governor has signaled his intent to veto legislation that Democrats and some environmentalists had hoped would end decades of squabbling over private timberlands and provide broad new protections for California’s forests.
“The bill is dead. The governor is tired of playing games. The bill is dead,” said John Amodio, deputy director of the governor’s office for planning and research.
Amodio said Saturday that Wilson decided late Friday that he would veto the measure after Democrats and environmentalists turned down his last request for compromises that would have satisfied many objections of major timber interests. Instead of acceding to the governor’s wishes, Amodio said, Democrats made a “power play” by using their majority status in the Legislature to ram through a bill that Republicans solidly opposed.
While there still may be time inthe next few days to pass additional forest legislation and avert a veto, Amodio said as a practical matter it was doubtful that either side was willing to give enough to satisfy the other.
“Many of us believe the reform goals can be better achieved through a clean new approach” next year, he said.
Saying he thought a veto would be “ill-advised,” a disappointed Sen. Barry Keene (D-Benicia), one of the authors of the measure, acknowledged that there was only “a sliver of hope” for further compromise.
“The state of the process is conspiring against us,” he said.
Keene said Democrats had been willing to meet many of the governor’s demands in the late-hour negotiating sessions but they could not embrace all of his proposals without losing support from environmentalists.
As a lawmaker who represents the state’s timber-producing region, Keene said he had pushed for stiffer forest protection laws in an attempt to forestall an environmentalist-backed initiative. He said such an initiative was likely to put such tight restrictions on timber harvesting that it would virtually destroy the logging business on the north coast.
“Our (forest protection) package had one virtue which the governor’s did not,” he said. “Our package will stop an initiative. His would trigger an initiative.”
While environmentalists are already gathering signatures in an attempt to qualify a new forest protection initiative for the ballot, leaders of several organization said they would meet in the next few weeks to decide whether they will continue with the signature-gathering.
The legislation approved by a Democratic majority late Friday, stemmed from an agreement known as the “Sierra Accord,” which had been worked out earlier this year by several environmental organizations and Sierra Pacific Industries, the state’s largest owner of private timberlands.
The proposal had strong opposition from the beginning, with some grass-roots environmental organizations contending that it was too weak and three major north coast timber companies complaining that it was too restrictive.
The agreement, which was incorporated into three bills sponsored by Keene, Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), Assemblyman Byron Sher (D-Palo Alto) and Assemblyman Dan Hauser (D-Arcata), banned clear cutting in ancient forests, restricted logging in watersheds, prohibited timber companies from cutting more than they could grow and limited clear cutting in other types of forests.
In August, Wilson proposed nearly 100 amendments to the measures designed to ease many of the restrictions and answer some of the complaints of the timber companies. While most of the amendments were adopted by legislative committees, a few that Wilson considered critical were rejected.
Late Thursday, after meeting with timber interests, the governor proposed his own version of the legislation. Angry environmentalists urged Democrats to reject the proposal, claiming that Wilson’s measure would be worse than current law.
Amodio said Wilson had tried to find a middle ground that would have still provided protections for forests but would not force logging companies to lay off hundreds of workers. However, Joan Reiss, regional director of the Wilderness Society, said environmentalists believed the Wilson proposals would have provided so many avenues for timber companies to get variances to the restrictions that over harvesting would continue to be a problem in California’s forests.
But she said that her organization would welcome a veto. By accepting so many of Wilson’s original amendments, she said, the Democrats had produced a bill which would not provide enough protection for watersheds and give companies too much leeway to clear cut.