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Logging Plan Allows More Clear-Cutting : Forests: Governor’s proposal permits more logging in certain cases than a bill he vetoed. Environmental community is bitterly split over Wilson’s effort.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sweeping legislative plan offered by Gov. Pete Wilson to end the timber wars and protect the state’s private forests would allow more logging than a bill the governor vetoed this year.

But even opponents concede that some provisions would do more to protect the forest than current law.

The Republican governor announced the plan this week, describing it as a bold effort to restrict logging on fragile timberlands and yet give regulators enough flexibility to ensure that lumber companies would not go out of business.

However, logging interests and environmentalists see the proposal as markedly similar to a Democrat-sponsored measure Wilson vetoed six weeks ago, differing only enough to capture the support of a majority of the state’s timber companies. The changes allow for larger clear-cuts under certain circumstances and greater harvesting in watersheds.

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One day before the governor announced the plan, the California Forestry Assn. voted by secret ballot to join with environmental organizations such as the Planning and Conservation League and the National Audubon Society in supporting the proposal.

Donn Zea, the forestry association’s vice president of industry affairs, said logging companies saw the Wilson proposal as less rigid than the Democratic measure, which provided “blanket” restrictions and did not leave room to adjust harvesting plans for the different growing conditions throughout the state.

The environmental community has been as bitterly split over the latest proposal as over the measure vetoed by Wilson. The Wilderness Society has opposed the plan while the Sierra Club, the state’s largest environmental organization, has declined to take a position. Its initial comments were critical, characterizing the plan as “half-baked.”

Robert Hrubes, a forest economist who often works as a consultant to the state, said of prime concern to the environmentalists is a concept known as maximum sustained yield--ensuring that forests are kept fully stocked and allowed to grow to maturity.

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“I do not see in this package assurance that maximum sustained productivity will in fact be requirement on industrial lands,” he said.

The new proposal departs most dramatically from the vetoed measure on the issue of clear-cutting. The Democratic bill limited clear-cuts to 20 acres. The new proposal provides a general limit of 20 acres but allows it to be increased to 30 acres when state regulators believe a larger cut could benefit the environment and help the natural regeneration of trees. Current law allows clear-cuts of up to 120 acres.

The new proposal adds a provision giving the state forestry director authority to prohibit clear-cutting in watersheds he deems “sensitive.” In other watersheds, both plans say owners can only clear-cut 15% of their parcels every 10 years. The Wilson-backed proposal makes an exception, saying that the forestry director can allow the 15% limit to be exceeded under certain circumstances until it reaches a ceiling of 21.25% of an ownership.

If an owner elects to harvest in a watershed by methods other than clear-cutting, both measures say the owner cannot remove more than 27% of the basal area--a term referring to the total area occupied by tree trunks. The new plan gives the board of forestry the authority, upon a two-thirds vote and after a public hearing, to raise the 27% level as long as there is no “significant impact on the environment.”

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Both plans ban clear-cutting in ancient forests, a protection that is not provided by current law, and both say that only 50% of ancient forest land can be harvested every 25 years. The Wilson plan requires that loggers must leave at least six trees per acre that are at least 175 years old. In separately defined old-growth forests, it requires that at least six trees per acre must be left that are a minimum of 100 years old.

Environmentalists complain that neither plan provides protection for the oldest and largest trees.


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