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Clearing the Way for Growth : Wilson's support of timber-management bill will save forests--and timber companies

December 08, 1991

For a time, California's timber wars threatened to last longer than the ancient forests over which they were fought. Now, like so many of the redwoods that sparked these battles, the skirmishes may be gone forever.

What should put an end to them is Gov. Pete Wilson's announcement last week that he wants to achieve most--if not all--of the goals of a forest-protection bill he vetoed in October. But getting a new bill through the Legislature may take more than good intentions. Wilson should be ready to supply--or apply--whatever it does take.

To the naked eye, the Wilson plan is so close to the bill by Assemblyman Byron D. Sher (D-Palo Alto) that the most important difference may be in the title. Sher's bill was modestly called the California Accord. Wilson called his proposal the Grand Accord.

Both recognize a need of protecting old growth, banning more than 20 acres of clear-cutting at a time and protecting streams, watersheds and wildlife from logging damage.

Both also call for a pattern of "sustained yield," in which trees are not harvested faster than young trees inch up to take their place.

On this, the descriptions of how to manage forest land are phrased differently, but the goals are the same.

Both versions seem designed to protect the timber companies from themselves as much as to protect the trees from the timber companies.

Late last month, a report from the California Department of Forestry disclosed that environmental activists were right in claiming that all forests, not just ancient redwoods, were simply disappearing under an excessive harvesting schedule.

Ancient forests that spread over 51,000 acres of private land in 1984 now take up just 5,000 acres, the report said. Between 1975 and 1985, the number of trees on private forestry land dropped by nearly half.

One important reason for the over-cutting was that Sacramento--under both Democratic and Republican management--let it happen.

To help strengthen state government oversight, Wilson's plan would change the composition of the state Board of Forestry, reducing the lumber industry representation by one and adding two environmentalists. The numbers are slightly different from those in the Sher bill, but, again, the goal is the same.

Wilson's plan has important, but not yet unanimous, support from environmental groups and from timber companies. But so did the Sher bill, and it squeaked by on a virtual party-line vote. As the forestry report made clear, the damage to California forests over two decades involved bipartisan neglect. Correcting it should get bipartisan attention.

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