San Francisco - Hundreds of thousands of acres of Sierra Nevada forest are being logged each year without required environmental reviews, according to a suit filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The suit, filed in San Francisco Superior Court, asks for an injunction on the approval of Timber Harvest Plans (THPs). According to the suit, the California Department of Forestry (CDF) has failed to ensure that THPs are reviewed by the other agencies that share responsibility for minimizing the environmental damage caused by logging.
Documents obtained by PEER show that the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board is grossly understaffed and is able to review only a handful of the hundreds of logging plans submitted every year. The California Forest Practices Act requires the Water Boards' oversight to ensure that the commercial harvest of timber does not adversely impact fish and wildlife or water quality. The Water Board has repeatedly advised CDF of its inability to review THPs, but CDF has continued to approve the plans.
The Central Valley Regional Water Board (Region 5) has only two staff persons assigned to appraise timber harvest plans. In contrast, the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board (Region 1) has thirty reviewers for roughly the same number of proposed logging plans. The average size of a logging project in Region 5 - 352 acres - is over twice the acreage of a North Coast logging plan.
"It is inexcusable that wholesale clearcutting of the Sierra is occurring with virtually no environmental review except by CDF, which sees its mission as promoting the timber industry," said California PEER director Karen Schambach. "CDF should not approve plans that have not had required review from state scientists. If the state can't afford to hire staff to review the plans, then plans should be denied."
A Timber Harvest Plan is considered to be the "functional equivalent" of an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Two years ago, California PEER released a report, "California's Failed Forest Policy" based on interviews with state and federal biologist who criticized the state for failing to protect fish and wildlife.See the report