SACRAMENTO — California approved hundreds of logging plans affecting hundreds of thousands of acres although a regional water board failed to review the plans as required by law, an environmental law suit charged Thursday.
The Department of Forestry is required to have the timber harvest plans reviewed by other agencies before approval.
But the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board repeatedly told the department it couldn’t review the proposals because it didn’t have the staff, according to records obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and made available to The Associated Press.
The regional board has responsibility for water quality protection for more than half the state’s commercial timberland. Its jurisdiction runs from the Oregon border to south of Bakersfield, covering the entire Central Valley and the western Sierra Nevada.
“We probably review substantially less than 10 percent of the plans within our region,” said James Pedri, the board’s assistant executive officer.
Because it couldn’t review the plans meant they were likely in violation of the California Forest Practices Act and California Environmental Quality Act, the board repeatedly told the department.
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But the department routinely declared in public records, incorrectly, that the regional board had reviewed the plans, the suit alleges. The department also repeatedly failed to hold the second of two required review team meetings for timber plans that fell within the regional board’s jurisdiction, the suit says.
“With or without the water board, water quality issues are being addressed” by the department’s own staff, said department spokesman Louis Blumberg. “We certainly invite other agencies to participate, but there’s nothing in the law that requires other agencies to participate.”
He said the department conducts a second review team meeting only when necessary.
By law, the department must deny any plans it can’t have properly reviewed, the suit contends.
PEER’s suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, asks for an injunction blocking the department’s approval of logging plans until the problem is corrected.
The regional board has just two state-paid employees reviewing harvest proposals, compared to the 28 doing the same job for the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. This is despite the fact the average 352-acre size of a logging project in the Central Valley board’s jurisdiction is more than twice as large as those in the North Coast region.
Pedri said the North Coast has received more staff funding because logging there has been more controversial.
“It is inexcusable that wholesale clear-cutting of the Sierra is occurring with virtually no environmental review except by CDF, which sees its mission as promoting the timber industry,” charged Karen Schambach, California director for the Washington-based nonprofit group.
On the Net: Read the suit at www.peer.org