Berkeley may ban cutting old growth forest

Daily Planet Wire Service
Friday April 12, 2002

Passage could have a $10 million annual impact on the timber industry 


Berkeley may become the first city in the state to support a ballot initiative that would ban the cutting of old trees on lands that are not federally owned, including timber lands and private property. The supporters of the Citizens' Campaign for Old-Growth Preservation have until April 22 to collect nearly half a million signatures to get their initiative on the November ballot, or until May to qualify for the March 2004 election. 

The so-called “Old Growth Preservation Initiative” prohibits the cutting or harming of old trees that were planted in or before 1850, the year that California became a state. 

At a news conference this afternoon, Berkeley Councilwoman Dona Spring said she would present a resolution at the April 16 council meeting that, if approved, would go on the record as saying that the City of Berkeley supports the initiative. 

Spring, who said the world is losing its connection to nature, predicted that the resolution would pass without opposition. 

The issue was trumpeted by the city's Peace and Justice Commission, a rare step given that such an initiative would usually be determined as an environmental concern, not as a social justice issue. 

According to commission member Elliot Cohen, the preservation of trees is an question of social justice because the logging of ancient species is detrimental to the well-being of all Californians. 

“This issue is not just an environmental issue,” Cohen said. “It impacts us all.” 

According to the proponents of the initiative, its passing could have an impact up to $10 million annually by reducing the amount of timber harvesting, as well as costing the state $500,000 a year to ensure compliance. 

There is also the possibility of major state costs to pay for any compensation claims by property owners who may sue the government if their land loses property value because of the regulations. 

According to Redwood Mary, a spokeswoman for the campaign, the percentage of timber that would be placed off limits by the initiative is small. With alternatives easily available, she added, there's no need to cut down the older trees. 

“There's no reason to use old growth as a building material anymore,” she said. “We have an option.” 

California voters turned down the Forests Forever Initiative, Proposition 130, a forest reform initiative in November 1990. The timber industry opposed it, Redwood Mary said, and she expects that this initiative will be opposed as well. Already, she added, the lumber industry filed a legal challenge against the initiative in a Sacramento state court, alleging that the language the proposal used was misleading. The challenge did not hold up in court.