UPDATED: Timber legislation promises reform of harvest rules


Issue Date: September 12, 2012
By Kate Campbell

Update: Gov. Brown signed the forest policy reform bill, Assembly Bill 1492, on Sept. 11. In his statement, the governor said the measure will "strengthen California's timber industry and protect thousands of jobs by eliminating regulatory fees on California companies, allowing extra time to harvest timber and preventing excessive civil liability for wildfires."

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger thanked the governor for signing the bill, saying the new law "gives our timber business a chance to compete fairly against out-of-state lumber."

Long-sought reform of California's timber harvest planning process awaits Gov. Brown's signature.

Achieving final passage after midnight on the last day of the two-year state legislative session, Assembly Bill 1492 represents "real forest policy reform," according to the California Farm Bureau Federation and timber organizations that supported the bill.

AB 1492 includes provisions that extend the length of a timber harvest plan from five years to seven years and limit wildfire liability for landowners neighboring government-owned lands. It also requires accountability from agencies that review timber harvest plans and pays for plan review through a 1 percent assessment on lumber sold in California at the retail level.

"We're grateful to the legislators who supported California jobs and communities by voting for the bill," CFBF Administrator Rich Matteis said. "Legislators from both sides of the aisle worked together despite their differences to remedy broken policies that impede job growth in California."

Members voting to approve AB 1492—which required a two-thirds vote for passage—included Sens. Bill Emmerson, R-Riverside, and Tom Harman, R-Huntington Beach, as well as Assembly Members Nathan Fletcher, I-San Diego, and Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, who joined all legislative Democrats in voting for the bill. Gov. Brown is expected to sign the bill, which would take effect immediately upon his signature.

"California forestland owners abide by the most stringent environmental protections in the nation," said Noelle Cremers, CFBF natural resources director. "Existing regulatory fees in California are 10 times that of neighboring states, and 70 percent of the lumber Californians use is imported, despite our significant forest resources."

State law requires California landowners to submit timber harvest plans that, according to the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, must spell out "what timber he or she wants to harvest, how it will be harvested, and the steps that will be taken to prevent damage to the environment." AB 1492 will improve the efficiency of forest harvest permitting, Cremers said, and spread the cost of forest regulation across all lumber used in California, through the 1 percent assessment.

The assessment will amount to less than 50 cents on a typical retail lumber purchase, she said, while it "will help timber producers remain competitive and maintain or expand the 25,000 forestry-related jobs in rural communities."

AB 1492 will also reduce costs for Californians by limiting wildfire liability risks on landowners, Cremers said.

"The federal government owns 45 percent of the land in California, and can seek large amounts of money if a fire starts on private land and spreads onto federal land—even if the fire starts due to a lightning strike or another reason that's not the landowner's fault," she said. "That drives up insurance costs for everyone, and AB 1492 addresses that by putting an end to the federal government's excessive claims."

Among other key legislation that was decided at the end of the legislative session:

  • Senate Bill 965 also received the required votes for last-minute passage. The bill, by Sen. Rod Wright, D-Los Angeles, would allow the public more flexible communications with state and regional water boards, including discussion of matters concerning waste discharge requirements, conditions of water quality certification or conditional waivers—provided all parties are given at least three days' notice and an opportunity to participate.
    Farm Bureau supported the legislation after it was amended to modify burdensome requirements for those needing to communicate directly with state and regional board members.
  • Another bill supported by Farm Bureau, AB 1966 by Assembly Member Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, also improves communication, in this case between landowners and mineral rights holders, by requiring a five-day notice before mineral-rights holders enter a surface property and a 30-day notice before conducting prospecting, mining or extracting activities. The bill was sent to the governor.
  • SB 863 by Sen. Kevin DeLeon, D-Los Angeles, would revise California's workers' compensation insurance system to increase benefits for workers and decrease costs for employers.

"This will be accomplished by reducing bureaucratic costs in appeals and medical reviews of workers' compensation injuries, as well as more carefully defining benefits available for various types and severities of injuries," said Bryan Little, CFBF labor affairs director.

Farm Bureau supported the bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to take action on bills sent to him, or let them become law without his signature.

Several bills Farm Bureau supported were not approved in the legislative flurry at session's end, Matteis said, adding that in many cases, these bills will be reintroduced when the new two-year session begins Dec. 1.

They include clean-drinking-water bills for communities facing challenges related to high nitrate levels in groundwater and a bill that would have extended funding for three air quality improvement funds beyond their current expiration dates.

Among bills that Farm Bureau opposed, the most significant development came in the failure of legislation that would have changed overtime pay rules for agriculture (see coverage in Sept. 5 issue).

Other bills that Farm Bureau opposed also failed in the waning hours of the session, including one that would have eased thousands of acres of farmland conversion to solar photovoltaic facilities, and another that would have dramatically expanded the Department of Fish and Game's ability to issue civil penalties against individuals believed to be in violation of any provision of the Fish and Game Code.

For a summary of how bills important to agriculture fared in the legislative session, see the Capitol Alert column.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.