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Governor's Forestry Board Nominee Is Pro-Industry, Environmentalists Say

As a senior state forester, Nancy Drinkard favored timber interests, critics charge. An aide to Schwarzenegger and a lobbyist laud her work.

September 10, 2004|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest nomination for a top state job overseeing California's forests has galvanized opposition from environmentalists, who say the choice underscores the administration's increasingly evident tilt toward the timber industry.

On Thursday, Schwarzenegger nominated Nancy Drinkard to the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, which is charged with overseeing parks, forests, watersheds and other California wilderness resources not under federal authority.

Several environmentalists and a forester who dealt with Drinkard when she previously worked as a senior state forestry official in Santa Cruz said she was often openly hostile to activists and far too sympathetic to the timber industry.

"She was involved in supporting the timber industry's violation of rules on a consistent basis," said Jodi Frediani, chairwoman of the forestry task force for the Sierra Club's Santa Cruz chapter. "She showed great contempt for the public. Various agency personnel were appalled at her attitude toward the forest practice rules and for the cozy relationship she had with the industry."

Drinkard's nomination comes as conservationists have been increasingly upset by Schwarzenegger's actions over forestry matters. At the end of budget negotiations with legislators this summer, Schwarzenegger, who has touted himself as a "green" governor, dropped his plan to add $10 million in logging fees in the face of industry opposition. He also attempted to trim state reviews of logging plans, but legislators rejected the idea.

Schwarzenegger's California Performance Review, a panel charged with restructuring state government, has recommended eliminating the nine-member forestry board. Board members are paid $100 for each day they work setting the state's forestry goals.

Schwarzenegger has also tapped timber industry officials for some of the most powerful jobs overseeing the state's environment. Jim Branham, Cal/EPA's undersecretary, came from Pacific Lumber, where he was the company's lobbyist. Melinda Terry, the former lobbyist for the industry's trade group, the California Forestry Assn., is in charge of legislative affairs at the state Resources Agency.

"The timber industry seems to have had their stock rise dramatically under this administration," said Paul Mason, the forestry representative for Sierra Club California. "I wonder about the industry lobbying groups, because it seems all of their people are going into the administration."

Ashley Snee, a Schwarzenegger spokeswoman, said that accusation "is not worth the paper or the tree it would take to print it on."

"The governor's appointees share his vision that sound environmental policies and strong economic principles are not mutually exclusive," Snee said.

Drinkard's nomination has raised particular ire, both because she was placed in one of five slots on the forestry board that are reserved for members representing the public, and because of the timing of the appointment.

California Senate officials said that Schwarzenegger appointed Drinkard to the board July 8, without any announcement, but did not submit her name for Senate confirmation until last week, after the Legislature had concluded its annual session. In addition, the governor moved forward with the nomination even though Senate leaders told him Drinkard was objectionable. The earliest the Senate would now take up the nomination would be in January, officials said.

"It's an unprecedented slap at the Senate and the normal process," said Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee. "[Drinkard] does not have the kind of qualifications we would like to see on that board. She was openly hostile to public participation, and that's not a good thing."

Drinkard, 60, is a Democrat who retired last year after 25 years as a forester at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Reached at her home in Santa Cruz on Thursday, she referred questions to Schwarzenegger's office.

William Keye, the lobbyist for the California Licensed Foresters Assn., praised Drinkard and said opposition was not unusual given the intense and emotional fights involving forestry issues in the state.

"I suppose that Nancy in her position probably rubbed some people the wrong way, but I don't know how you do that job without having to make some decisions," Keye said. "People like Nancy Drinkard didn't get into the profession to destroy the environment. Nancy is very energetic, very passionate about environmental protection and trying to properly regulate forest practices in California."

Laura Perry, executive director of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, said Drinkard nimbly handled a proposed timber harvest in the Santa Cruz Mountains several years ago. "I admired the way she dealt with the issues the neighbors had. She allowed a timber harvest, but shaped it in a way that it repaired earlier damages on the land," Perry said.

Others had far different views. Stephen Rae, a forester who said he clashed repeatedly with Drinkard when he worked for the Department of Fish and Game, said in an e-mail that she regularly dismissed his department's views in decisions, and "frequently resorted to personally offensive and unprofessional language and actions to challenge and intimidate those with whom she disagrees."

"Ms. Drinkard has explicitly told me several times that her primary responsibility as a [state] forester was to represent the interests of the private forest companies in managing their lands," Rae said. "Most importantly, Ms. Drinkard fails to understand the underlying premise of public oversight generally woven into regulatory actions in California and timber harvest review in specific."

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