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Cut with caution and control

As you wake up, you may hear chain saws in your neighborhood and the disturbing sound of trees falling. You may think: How dare someone disturb the tranquility of the neighborhood? How can this be possible? Do your neighbors have a permit? What are the laws? Who enforces them?

Timber harvesting on private land is regulated by the Z’berg-Nejedly Forest Practices Act, which is found in the Public Resources Code, sections 4511 to 4628. The California Forest Practice Act was adopted in 1973, resulting in the most comprehensive regulation process in the nation.



The state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection was established by the act and is charged with developing and enacting rules and regulations affecting private timber harvesting in the state. The state agency also administers the rules and regulations, which are available at http://www.fire.ca.gov/resourcemanagement/forestpractice.asp




Noncommercial timber harvesting is generally not regulated. Cutting your own trees down for your own firewood is noncommercial.Thinning small trees that are not sold is a noncommercial activity. If forest products are sold or bartered, the operation is commercial and requires an approved permit from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The principal permit is the timber harvest plan (THP), which is prepared by private registered professional foresters (RPF) and reviewed by CDF and other government agencies, including the state Department of Fish and Game, state Department of Water Quality, state Department of Mines and Geology, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Other agencies may have direct participation at their request, such as the county and Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

The THP process has been certified by the resources agency to be a functional equivalent of the environmental impact report process. CDF annually reviews about 1,000 THPs and performs 7,500 inspections.

The THP is submitted to CDF in Redding. Within 10 days, the THP is assigned a number and sent to reviewing agencies. Various review procedures and public comment can take up to three months before a permit is issued.

The CDF inspector is required by law to make at least three inspections, including after work is completed and after replanting has been in the ground two growing seasons. Within 30 days of completion of work, the timber owner is required to file a work completion report. Within five years of completion of operations, the timber owner or its representative must file a stocking report. Erosion controls must be maintained in working condition from one to three years after completion of operations.

Certain exemptions from the THP process are allowed. A fire hazard reduction exemption allows a timber operator to harvest trees within 150 feet of legally permitted structures that comply with the Uniform Building Code. Slash cleanup is required within 45 days of the start of operations. The understory brush and trees must be reduced and spaced out.

A less than three-acre conversion exemption allows a landowner to convert to a non-timber growing use one time per contiguous ownership. Pine slash must be cut into lengths less than four feet and exposed to the sun. All slash must be disposed of by April 1 of the year following its creation.

Eric Carr is a registered professional forester who has lived in Nevada County since 1978. He is an area forester for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and he and his wife manage a San Juan Ridge tree farm that produces timber, firewood and Christmas trees. His job includes advising forestland owners. He can be reached at 265-2603.


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