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 The Pioneer Press, at the very top of the State of California, grants permission for this article to be copied and forwarded.

Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California Wednesday, June 1, 2005 Vol. 32, No. 32 Page A14, column 1.
Coho costs timber company $10 million

-- Public has lost vehicle access to local trailheads.

By Liz Bowen, assistant editor, Pioneer Press, Fort Jones, California

SCOTT VALLEY, Calif. Ė The cost of government regulations is strangling timber companies and as a result, the public is losing vehicle access to several local trailheads.

In the past Fruit Growers Supply Company held a policy, which allowed public vehicle traffic on its many mountain roads, including up to the trailheads of Shackleford, Kidder and Babbs.

But the access to forest lands is changing.

To many locals, who are used to driving up to the trailheads, the road closures are a travesty.

To Fruit Growers, the ever-increasing environmental pressures and costly regulations are a crime against the beneficial use of its property.

The company owns more than 210,000 acres in Siskiyou County, California with a significant amount of 79,000 acres in the mountains surrounding Scott Valley. It is also the second oldest timber company in California purchased by growers of citrus in Southern California at the turn of the last century.

But what most of the public does not understand is that these privately-owned roads are maintained through funds from timber harvests, said Charlie Brown, the northern operations official with Fruit Growers.

The bottom line -- the company can no longer afford to maintain the mountain roads.

The fees and costs for developing a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) have skyrocketed.

For instance, the expensive CEQA, which stands for California Environmental Quality Act, must be developed for each THP; and the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board now imposes a Waste Discharge Permit with fee and additional costs.

But the biggest new cost is a result of regulations surrounding the protection of coho salmon. The specie is listed with the federal and state Endangered Species Acts.

Fruit Growers lost 20 percent of its useable land West of Interstate-5 due to the ESA listing of the coho. Areas and watersheds with streams, where coho may be living, can not be harvested. Even if the trees are thick and fire danger is a major threat.

Ironically, adult coho salmon returned in abundance last winter and swam to the further-most reaches of the Scott River and its tributaries. The 1,500 counted coho will likely produce a huge amount of juveniles that are beginning to emerge and swim out of the Scott River system this month.

"The coho has already cost us $10 million," said Brown, referring to stream buffers, set asides, hikes in the 1600 permits and the expensive Incidental Take Permits needed in coho areas.

"We have gotten to the point that it (timber) is no longer a viable business in Scott Valley," said Brown, but added, "the lands are good for fish."

Timber companies have been hit hard during the past 15 years as environmental opinions on spotted owl and now coho salmon have increased land use regulations in Northern California and Oregon.

Brown said there is a consequence from the all the increased regulations to protect the environment. And that consequence is keeping "the public out of the forest lands."

Actually, during the past year, Brown has been stumping a new idea. So far there has been little public support; and he hasnít heard back from the Forest Service, he said last Friday.

The idea is to do a land exchange with the Forest Service.

Most trailheads are on Forest Service lands, which are adjacent to Wilderness Areas. So the three privately-owned trailheads on Fruit Growers property in Scott Valley would be part of the trade, which would allow the Forest Service to continue to provide access for the ever-increasing recreation to the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area.

Fruit Growers is willing to trade its Scott Valley lands for acreage in the Klamath National Forest in the Goosenest Ranger District. Because there are no spotted owls and no coho in the Goosenest District, there are fewer environmental restrictions on timber harvest. The timber company would actually be able to manage forests for timber, said Brown.

One of Brownís last presentations of the land exchange idea was to the Siskiyou County Fish and Game Commission in March 2005.

"Itís going to take an act of Congress," said Brown of the exchange, but believes the idea is worth a try. "Unless the people want it to happen, itís not going to happen."

Deputy supervisor of the Klamath National Forest, Mike Lee, attended the meeting and after discussion, responded, "You are right, it will take years," for an exchange of this style to happen.

Lee said that the federal government can acquire lands, but it is difficult to take public lands out of the public management.

"Timberland is a good investment," added Brown. "Trees are growing four percent a year."

That means, in just 10 years, the trees will have increased by 40 percent

 

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