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[pct-l] Emergency logging without public review upheld
- Subject: [pct-l] Emergency logging without public review upheld
- From: Brick Robbins <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 03 Sep 1998 10:01:16 -0700
Emergency logging without public review upheld
By Bob Egelko ASSOCIATED PRESS
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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