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[pct-l] Emergency logging without public review upheld

from http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/uniontrib/thu/index.html

Emergency logging without public review  upheld


September 3, 1998 

 SAN FRANCISCO -- Loggers with financial emergencies will be allowed to cut trees for  up to four months, with state approval but without public review, under an appellate  ruling that became final yesterday. 

The state Supreme Court denied a hearing sought by Santa Cruz County, which argued  that only fire hazards and other health or safety emergencies should exempt loggers  from having to file formal timber harvest plans for public inspection.

Justices Stanley Mosk and Joyce Kennard voted to review the case, with four votes  needed for review by the seven-member court.

The appellate ruling upholding the exemption, issued in June, now becomes binding on  trial courts statewide.

The regulations were passed by the state Board of Forestry in 1981. They allow a  logger, with state approval, to conduct immediate operations for up to 120 days to avoid  a previously unexpected financial loss. The logger must declare that the operation was  previously unavailable and will be feasible only for a short time.

The logging must follow some environmental standards, keeping heavy equipment off  steep slopes and unstable areas, avoiding protected species and restocking vegetation  disturbed by the operation.

But Santa Cruz County said the exemption has been used increasingly in recent years to  sidestep reviews by the public and local agencies that are supposed to protect the  public interest.

"We're concerned that it is a loophole and that the way it's written it is susceptible to  abuse," county counsel Dwight Herr said after the appellate ruling.

Although state Department of Forestry approval is required for a financial exemption,  the regulations require approval as long as the logger's self-certification of eligibility is  complete, Herr said.

But Christopher Rooney, executive officer of the Board of Forestry, said exemptions are  not common and are not granted for every claim of financial losses.

The case involved a financial exemption granted to Roger A. Burch to build a 1,000-foot  logging road in the Coast Range summit area. Burch applied to the state at the end of  September 1995, saying his contractual right to build the road would end five weeks  later and he could not complete a timber harvest plan by then.

He got state authorization the same day, built the road in two weeks and later submitted  and won approval for a logging plan.

Santa Cruz County sued in August 1996, saying Burch's emergency was self-created by  the contract he had negotiated and did not justify an exemption. 

The county did not challenge Burch's road, which was already built, but contended that  the exemption for financial emergencies was unauthorized by state law.

San Francisco Superior Court Judge William Cahill disagreed and was upheld by the 1st  District Court of Appeal.

The court noted that the 1973 law that requires timber harvest plans for logging  operations contains an exemption for emergencies. Emergencies are to be "defined by  the Board (of Forestry) and may include, but are not limited to," the need to remove  dead, damaged or infected timber, the law states.

That language is "the broadest possible grant of legitimate powers to an administrative  agency" and was intended to let the board define the scope of emergencies that would  bypass normal review, said Justice Ignacio Ruvolo in the 3-0 ruling.

The case is County of Santa Cruz vs. California State Board of Forestry, S071972.

Copyright 1998 Union-Tribune Publishing Co. 

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