SACRAMENTO — A proposed compromise designed to reduce logging and preserve ancient forests in California won the backing of major environmental groups Tuesday, putting pressure on the timber industry to approve the agreement or face a tougher ballot initiative in 1992.
The Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Wilderness Society have agreed to back the proposal, which would reduce timber harvest on private lands and increase protection for streams, watersheds and wildlife.
"This agreement provides the basis for historic legislation to settle the timber conflict that's been raging in California," said Gail Lucas, Sierra Club negotiator. "While we prefer stronger laws, both sides made large concessions to reach a compromise."
The plan was the result of weeks of negotiations between environmentalists and Sierra Pacific Industries, one of the state's biggest logging companies. It is scheduled to come up for approval today before the Timber Assn. of California, an organization of 50 timber firms that own more than 3 million acres of forest land.
"While major compromises were made, we can live with the provisions of the agreement given our specific circumstances," said Dan Tomechescki, vice president of Sierra Pacific Industries. "We will be taking it to other members of the timber association and to other forest owners to determine if they can live with it too."
The negotiators hope the compromise will prevent another bruising battle between rival ballot initiatives such as the costly fight last year over Propositions 130 and 138, which were rejected by voters.
Some environmentalists criticized the compromise, charging that it does not do enough to protect California's forests. Gary Ball, one of many involved in drafting the environmentalists' Proposition 130, called for preparations to begin another initiative to halt what he termed the deforestation of California.
Proposition 130 would have provided stronger protections for forests, including more restrictions on clear-cutting and a 60% limit on the volume of timber that could be logged.
If the compromise wins the backing of the timber industry and environmental community, it will be submitted to the Legislature.
In an attempt to build support for the plan, the Sierra Club made public a detailed summary of the compromise.
One key provision would establish a policy of "sustained yield," which would prohibit logging companies from harvesting timber at a rate faster than the forest's rate of growth. However, the plan would give companies a 10-year transition period to reduce their logging. Then, loggers would be prohibited from harvesting more than 2.2% of the timber in their forests annually.
The proposal also would restrict the controversial clear-cutting of forests to parcels of 20 or fewer acres.
Timber companies would be allowed to continue logging old-growth forests, but with some restrictions. A logging company could take half the timber in an old-growth forest, but then would be prohibited from logging the area for 25 years. At that time, the company could return and harvest 50% of the remaining timber.