A local environmental organization that has challenged timber harvesting companies for the past four decades is now circulating a ballot initiative seeking to ban clear-cut logging in Humboldt County.
The Arcata-based Environmental Protection Information Center, known as EPIC, is leading the campaign and hopes to place the initiative on the November 2018 general election ballot.
“Clear-cutting is a relic of another era,” EPIC Executive Director Tom Wheeler said in a statement Wednesday. “Clear-cutting is bad for Humboldt County. It releases more carbon dioxide than a forest fire, destroys fish and wildlife habitat, and pollutes drinking water. As Humboldt County residents, we demand better.”
Wheeler said there have been plenty of examples of the impacts of clear-cutting including the 1997 mudslide that caused major destruction in the town of Stafford.
Wheeler said there have been two failed attempts at the state level to ban clear-cutting, but said this is the first time EPIC has sought to ban it at a county level.
Wheeler said the initiative would affect companies such as Green Diamond Resource Company and Sierra Pacific Industries, which he said continue to use clear-cut harvesting in addition to other types of practices.
In a statement to the Times-Standard on Wednesday afternoon, Green Diamond Resource Company Forest Policy and Sustainability Manager Gary Rynearson called EPIC’s action “unnecessary” and said it “will be divisive for our community and will likely reignite the timber wars.”
“We were completely surprised by the EPIC petition. For the last several years we have worked to find common ground on issues such as the impacts of illegal use of pesticides on wildlife,” Rynearson wrote. “We are proud of our forestry management that is conducted under the requirements of multiple state and federal permits, and is third-party certified to Forest Stewardship Council standards. Since our annual growth far exceeds harvest, our forests are actively sequestering carbon.”
This reporter’s attempts to contact Sierra Pacific Industries for comment were not returned by Wednesday evening.
Wheeler pointed to Humboldt Redwood Company and Mendocino Redwood Company as examples of local timber companies that do not employ clear-cutting.
“We can have a vibrant timber industry and sustainable forestry at the same time,” Wheeler said.
In addition to banning clear-cutting and other similar practices, the proposed initiative would do the following:
• Require large trees, snags, wildlife trees and hardwood trees in the area to be logged to be retained.
• Prohibit the use of heavy machinery on slopes over 40 percent.
• “Tractor and skid trails on slopes greater than 20 percent would be required to be covered with slash or mulch during the winter period.”
• “Skid trails, landings and work areas must be reseeded, mulched or protected by compacting slash and debris from the harvest operation.”
• “A qualified technical expert would, on request, be permitted to accompany a county representative on any field review to be conducted prior to approval of a timber harvest plan.”
Even if the initiative passes, it doesn’t mean clear-cutting is immediately banned. Wheeler said the California Board of Forestry and Fire Protection regulates timber production and harvesting in the state, but said there is a provision in the Forest Practice Act that allows counties to recommend rules.
“If the rules are consistent with the larger forest practice rule book and these are consistent and they are necessary to protect the needs and conditions of the county recommending the rules, the board has an obligation to pass these rules,” Wheeler said.
A similar clear-cutting ban has already been implemented in Marin County, Wheeler said.
Wheeler said they plan to post the initiative text in the near future on EPIC’s website, www.wildcalifornia.org.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.