California Native Plant Society

Conservation Program

Report from the Capitol - Spring 2012

The 2012 Legislative session is fully underway and weirdness is looming just under the surface. After all, this is an election year with major redistricting changes and the first top-two primary - meaning there will be lots of unexplainable actions and votes unfolding before the Legislature adjourns the end of August.

CNPS and others are keeping a watch for bad CEQA bills, remembering the late session hits that process took last year. So far several bad bills have been stopped or amended to be largely harmless;included in this last category are AB 1665, AB 2245, SB 973, and SB 1380. We have also been engaged in meetings on AB 890, pertaining to road safety improvements, to see if an expanded CEQA waiver would be appropriate.

The only good part of the CEQA bills last year was the requirement that the Administrative record be prepared concurrently with the CEQA review, thereby reducing costs to potential plaintiffs, as well as expediting judicial review. Several bills this year seek to expand that requirement to more projects, including AB 1570 and SB 984.

Two bills will change the Department of Fish and Game to Fish and Wildlife, AB 2283 & AB 2402, and address other issues coming out of a comprehensive strategic vision review of the DFG.

The legislative issue keeping CNPS busiest, however, regards timber harvesting and forest management. What began as an effort to fully fund DFG and other responsible agencies in their Timber Harvest Plan (THP) review work has turned into a major re-examination of forestry management. Last December, Assembly members Chesbro and Dickinson formed a Timber Harvest Working Group (THWG) with representatives of a wide range of stakeholders, including CNPS’s Vern Goehring.

It soon became obvious that to talk about more money meant that the larger program was going to be examined as well. The industry and the Administration put forward their issues and a coalition of environmental groups did also, including creation of ecological standards to serve as a basis for a more meaningful cumulative impact assessment and other critical evaluations.

An additional objective tied to the general state budget surfaced a few months ago - free up General Fund (general tax) revenues to help balance the budget. Most of the $18-19 million now spent on THP review comes from the General Fund and if an alternative source could be found or created this money could be used for other programs without alternatives. We’ve long advocated that fees should fund THP review, after all it is a regulatory program and as we all know polluters or users should pay. But the timber industry would have none of that and the Administration agreed.

So a three part solution has been proposed to become part of the budget: wholesale/retail lumber sales assessment (e.g., tax); extend the effective period of THPs from five to seven years; and cap the liability that timber companies could face if their operations start forest fires. The new assessment could generate up $38 million, significantly more than currently available. The distasteful parts, however, are necessary to get to the 2/3 vote requirement in the Legislature to enact a tax.

There are many uncertainties and the outcome is unknown. Hearings and meetings are ongoing and CNPS is there, trying to get the best deal for native plant resources. A long meeting was held in the Governor’s Office just days ago and many favorable changes were won, but there is still much not to like.

Regardless of what happens in the budget the THWG will continue working and CNPS and coalition partners will push for improvements to forest management and THP standards that ensure better more reliable conservation and protection of native plant resources.

For copies of any bill mentioned here and more, check out the Legislation Tracker link on this page.

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