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Groups Urge Davis to Take On Clear-Cutting

June 21, 2002|ERIC BAILEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A broad environmental coalition boosted election-year pressure Thursday on Gov. Gray Davis, calling for his state water regulators to wade into the fight over clear-cut logging in California forests.

The Sierra Club, fishing groups and other preservationists contend that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has failed to control muddy runoff into streams from timber harvests on private lands.

The coalition asked that the state Water Resources Control Board wrest away oversight from the forestry department. During a noontime rally in a downtown Sacramento park, they called on the governor to push for the change.

Carl Zichella, the Sierra Club's state director, said Davis has received hefty campaign contributions from logging firms but could rally the enthusiasm of environmentalists by stemming clear-cut logging.

"He has the power," Zichella said, adding that it remains up to the governor "to show he's not bought by those companies."

Campaign records show that Davis has received about $450,000 from timber interests since 1999. But such political contributions "have never had any impact on this governor's policy decisions," said Roger Salazar, a Davis campaign spokesman.

Since 1988, state water regulators have largely ceded responsibility to the forestry department for ensuring that logging does not impair water quality. The department has failed miserably at that job, environmentalists charged in a 20-page petition.

They say clear-cut logging denudes hillsides and causes muddy runoff to cascade into streams, fouling fish spawning grounds, ruining water quality and flooding downstream residents.

"It is time to take the [forestry department] out of the driver's seat and end this terrible ride to nowhere," said Cynthia Elkins of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a North Coast anti-logging group.

"This is America--everyone has the right to complain," said Karen Terrill, a spokeswoman for the forestry department. But she said the agency passionately enforces the state's water quality laws.

An industry spokesman said timber firms now operate under the tightest environmental restrictions and go through the most exhaustive logging review in the country, with state water regulators often weighing in.

"It's hugely complex," said Dave Bischel, president of the California Forestry Assn. "Can you imagine if the farmer who wants to go out and plant his corn and harvest it had to go through this process every year?"

Water regulators have long argued that they lack the staffing to carefully review each of the timber harvest plans that precede any logging in California's privately owned forests.

A state water board spokeswoman said the panel's legal staff will need to review the petition before the board can respond.

The push for tougher water monitoring comes at a critical juncture in California's timber wars.

On the North Coast, Pacific Lumber Co. has resumed clear-cut logging in the Elk River watershed, where heavy timber harvesting in the 1990s is blamed for problems suffered by downstream residents.

Earlier this year, state water regulators ordered the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to consider stepping in.

But the regional board balked after a two-day hearing, drawing howls of protest from environmentalists in Humboldt County.

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