Tuesday, December 13, 2005
C.A. Revives Pacific Lumber Plan for Logging On North Coast
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The First District Court of Appeal yesterday overturned a Humboldt Superior Court ruling that had struck down Pacific Lumber Co.’s state-approved 100-year logging plan.
Presiding Justice Barbara J.R. Jones, writing for Div. Five, said the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection made an adequate showing that the plan, which allows the company to harvest timber on approximately 211,000 acres in Humboldt County, would protect endangered species and watersheds.
The logging plan arose from a deal between Maxxam Incorporated, which acquired Pacific Lumber in 1986, and the state and federal governments. Under the 1996 agreement, brokered by Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the company agreed to sell the Headwaters Forest, 7,500 acres of environmentally sensitive old-growth redwoods, to the government in exchange for permission to log its remaining acreage.
That permission, in turn, was conditioned upon preservation of habitat for the imperiled marbled murrelet and the northern spotted owl, prevention of excessive logging and protection of streams.
The Environmental Protection Information Center in Garberville, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers of America sued the state in 1999, 30 days after the state and federal governments signed the $480 million deal to buy the ancient redwood groves from Pacific Lumber.
The groups charged that the state didn’t follow the state Forest Practices Act, Endangered Species Act and Environmental Quality Act as well as the Fish and Game Code when they reviewed and approved the long-term logging plan and other permits.
Golden, a visiting judge from Lake County, granted a writ of mandate sought by the petitioners but later allowed the company to proceed with logging pending the appeals court decision. Halting logging would place the entire Headwaters deal in jeopardy, Pacific Lumber warned.
Jones, writing for the Court of Appeal, noted that appellate courts in environmental review cases defer to the agency, not to the trial court, and said the plaintiffs failed to show that the forestry department failed to follow the law in conducting its review.
“It bears emphasizing here that when an environmental assessment involves complex scientific questions requiring a high level of technical expertise, we leave the conclusions to the informed discretion of the agency,” Jones wrote.
The jurist rejected the argument that the department violated its own rules by approving the plan without timber demonstrably accurate long-term projections of timber production. She noted that projections are estimates and that the rules explicitly recognize that precise accuracy becomes more difficult to attain over longer periods of time.
“The [department’s] Public Review Draft supplied inventory data, projections on growth and harvest spanning 120 years, and an evaluation of the accuracy of the model for long-term sustained yield,” she wrote. The draft and the environmental impact report for the project , she added, set up a monitoring and reporting program to deal with the inherent flaws in the projections.
The case is Environmental Protection Information Cetner v. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Pacific Lumber Company), A104828.
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