NH 2020 group’s focus worries some
Editor’s note: This is the second and final set of comments on the Natural Heritage 2020 Forestry Working Group recommendations from people representing widely differing organizations. The Forestry Working Group released its report in January. Commentators expressed appreciation for the working group members’ efforts.
Frank Stewart, forester, Quincy Library Group counties coordinator:
As an outsider I will refrain from commenting on the specifics of the report, other than to say that the biggest threat to rural communities, watersheds and wildlife in Nevada County is the hazardous fuel conditions that exist on the national forest lands and this report does little to address that issue. The report appears to disregard the urgency and direction of the National Fire Plan, the Western Governors Ten-Year Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Wildland Fire Risks to Communities and the Environment and the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act. The assumption that prescribed fire will be the primary method of hazardous fuel reduction on national forest lands is nothing more than wishful holistic thinking and setting the tone for a Los Alamos catastrophic fire event in Nevada County.
The committee is to be commended for the foresight of developing a countywide fire plan under the Nevada County Fire Safe Council. Once the plan is developed, then the citizens of Nevada County can visualize the scale of the hazardous fuel problem and work towards an appropriate and efficient pace of annual acres treated.
Chad Hanson, executive director of the John Muir Project:
The stated charge of NH 2020 is to, “create a natural resource and landscape protection plan in Nevada County,” a goal which I completely support.
However, I read with shock the recommendations from the Forestry Working Group regarding private forest lands. The leaders of this group apparently forgot that the original idea was to figure out ways to provide greater protection for our forests in Nevada County – not to figure out ways to increase logging levels. (It should be noted that the environmentalists on the working group, to their credit, have written a dissenting minority report).
Out of 12 recommendations for private forest lands, not one suggests any form of protection for mature and old-growth forests. Instead, they suggest amending county ordinances to: a) encourage small landowners (with as little as five acres) to convert their property into commercial timber production; b) allow timber milling and marketing on residential property; c) waive logging application fees; d) reduce costs (subsidize?) of Timber Harvest Plans to encourage smaller landowners to log their forests; e) hire a county logging planner; f) set up a Forestry Advisory Committee that would likely be stacked with timber industry cronies; and g) exempt Timber Harvest Plans from normal rules if they claim (as every logging project on private and public lands does these days) that the purpose of the timber sale is to “reduce fuels,” even if that means logging mature and old-growth trees, which destroys habitat and increases severe fire risk, according to scientists.
Interestingly, the Forestry Working Group plans to make these terrible recommendations to the Community Advisory Committee, but the people who head the working group also sit on the CAC. What a travesty! Our quality of life in Nevada County is far too important to let the timber industry hijack the NH 2020 process.
Tim Feller, forester, Tahoe District manager for Sierra Pacific Industries:
Commenting on the recommendations is difficult, due to the general nature in which they are written.
Clearly, the issue of fuel reduction and protecting our communities from catastrophic wildfire is very serious. This working group joins many other communities that have almost burnt down, such as our own Nevada City, Weaverville, Susanville, Burney, Loyalton and Arnold, with notable mention to the most famous, Los Alamos, in recognizing this threat. Our forests simply have more trees and are thicker, with more continuous fuel ladders, than they should be.
Dealing with this issue alone should have been the main focus of this group. A long-term plan to identify and prioritize the treatment of high-risk areas around communities and modify existing regulations (forest practice, air quality) that currently limit our ability to achieve fuel-reduction goals and improving the economics of implementing the recommendations would have been a great start.
If we can keep our forested communities from burning, we retain all the resource values associated with the forested landscapes.
If Nevada County truly were interested in achieving these goals, it would need to be done through a process that is credible and has broad community support.
Most of the other issues recommended by the working group are already covered in existing regulations, while others have the appearance of just being more restrictive. It’s just hard to believe this process is supportive of forest management when so many recommendations talk about acquisition of private lands, conservation easements and zoning consolidation for open space.
Having a county forester to coordinate with local agencies, the Board of Supervisors and Fire Safe Councils, and help small landowners maintain their properties, as forested parcels, is a good idea. A registered professional forester should definitely fill the position.
Peter Elias, coordinating secretary of Nevada County Forest Coalition:
There is an ongoing effort by opponents of the current Nevada County Board of Supervisors to turn Natural Heritage 2020 into a damaging political weapon against them. These opponents are primarily development and industrial interests who are deeply afraid of not having the control and power to do exactly what they want in determining the future of our county.
Anyone who is confused about what NH 2020 is, or about the fuss connected with it, should put what they hear in that context, and the real issues should become more clear. I see the demanded addition to and then withdrawal of Sierra Pacific Industries employees from the Forestry Working Group committee as part of this process of trying to discredit NH 2020 and the Board of Supervisors.
The recommendations are a result of a working group mission statement and subsequent rules which emphasized opportunities for timber and resource management. Due to this slant, committee members whose primary purpose is to be environmental advocates were at a disadvantage on the Forestry Work Group. These environmental advocates were also outnumbered.
While the fairly conservative recommendations can be considered generally positive and beneficial, several are open to environmentally harmful interpretations and/or implementation. Personally, I would include among this latter group those recommendations pertaining to a forest advisory committee and advisor and timber harvest and planning. I would say timber industry representatives and friends did a good job of protecting and promoting their interests on this committee.
Pat Davison, field director, California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners:
We are very concerned about the potential for new taxes or fees to be imposed as a way to pay for some of these programs. Taxpayers need accurate fiscal information (i.e., cost/benefit analysis, alternatives, etc.) before the Community Advisory Committee moves forward on any of these recommendations.
We oppose county efforts to buy private land or easements. This should be left to the other entities (Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Land Trusts, NID, Park & Recreation Districts, other property owners, etc.). The county should adopt a “no net loss of private property” position to preserve the tax base.
General Plan Policy 6.10 – support land trusts to acquire and manage open-space lands – should be reviewed. If the county will be taking an active role to support the land trusts, we have questions about the potential acquisitions of private property: Where is the guarantee of public use? Where is the selection criteria for county evaluation of parcels?
We oppose any county action that forces a property owner to purchase a buffer, or make the reclaimed mines serve as open space. Nothing stops the land trusts or park and recreation districts from pursuing private negotiations with a mine owner to secure permanent open space.
We welcome the county’s active promotion of both large- and small-scale timber harvesting as a responsible land use with numerous benefits.
We oppose policies that remove property owner choice for changing from Timberland Protection Zone to another type of land use. We oppose using a broad brush to characterize thousands of acres of land with certain soils as “high conservation priority” when that designation may have severe impacts on numerous property owners and the county’s future housing supply.
We support the creation of a Forestry Advisory Committee and the selection of an registered professional forester to serve as the county’s forestry advisor.
CABPRO has produced a comprehensive report not reproduced here.
Orson B. Hansen, president, Hansen Brothers Enterprises:
I was a member of the Forestry Working Group, Mining and Resource Subcommittee until Oct. 3, 2001, when I resigned due to my belief that NH 2020 was going to be ignored by the existing Board of Supervisors if it did not coincide with their outlook and that NH 2020 is an extreme danger to all the rights of the individuals of this county, not just property rights.
All currently active mines are required to have an approved reclamation plan. The reclamation plan sets forth conditions to protect water, both surface and subsurface, control erosion both for the present and the future, control dust, to ensure that the mine site, after mining ceases, is restored to as much a normal state as possible.
My experience as an operator of three aggregate producing site mines in Nevada County is that the planning department of this county is diligent in its implementation of existing permits and reclamation plans and General Plan policies.
Past, present and probable/possible mining areas must be properly identified on zoning and parcel maps allowing current and future land owners to realize that mining could occur near by.
Buffer zones around mines and/or prospective mine sites have been suggested many times. There are many problems with this concept. One is that landowners may not want to sell their property as a buffer at any price, fair market (whatever that is) or not. Setbacks may not work, and, in my opinion, are getting real close to being a taking of property and property rights. I think there are other ways: the ME zoning on mineral areas, for instance, lets prospective purchasers know that a mine could operate in that area.
Mining is a very regulated industry, especially in California. There are multiple layers of regulations governing the operation of a mine from local city and county governments to state and federal government.
On the Net
NH 2020 Forestry Working Group report
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