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For Immediate Release, August 25, 2009

Contact:  Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304
Jan Chatten-Brown, (310) 314-8050

Greenhouse Gas Lawsuits Force Timber Company Cancellation of Sierra Nevada Clearcut Logging Plan

SAN FRANCISCO— In response to recent lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity, plans to log more than 1,600 acres of Sierra Nevada forest have been formally withdrawn by Sierra Pacific Industries, the timber company that had proposed the logging. The Center filed three lawsuits earlier this month against the California Department of Forestry for illegally approving the plans without analyzing the carbon and climate consequences of the logging.

“Rather than attempt to defend the indefensible, Sierra Pacific Industries wisely retreated from this fight,” said Brendan Cummings, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The cancellation of these ill-conceived and illegal logging plans is an important step toward bringing the timber industry in California into the 21st century.”

Despite well-established law that state agencies must analyze and mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions from a specific project when they approve it, the Department of Forestry had failed to carry out any project-specific analysis of the emissions that would result from Sierra Pacific Industries’ clearcutting plans. 

Beyond the three now-canceled plans in litigation, more than two dozen similar logging plans by Sierra Pacific Industries are awaiting approval from the Department of Forestry. Together, these plans would authorize clearcutting over 12,000 additional acres of California forests.

“The California Department of Forestry now needs to reject all pending and similarly flawed clearcutting plans,” said Jan Chatten-Brown of Chatten-Brown & Carstens, co-counsel for the Center in the recent suits. “Unless the Department starts requiring logging companies to disclose, analyze, and most importantly, mitigate the actual carbon dioxide emissions resulting from logging plans, they will likely find themselves back in court.”
Undisturbed forests generally act as carbon sinks, continuously absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and storing it in the forests’ trees, shrubs, and soil. Logging can convert a patch of forest from a net carbon sink to a carbon source. Clearcutting, which is also damaging to wildlife and water quality, generates the most greenhouse gases of any logging method.

The California Department of Forestry is responsible for approving all logging plans on private land in California and must ensure that each proposed plan complies with the California Environmental Quality Act. Under this law, state agencies and local governments approving projects must analyze the projects' effects on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, as well as the cumulative impact of related logging. However, rather than calculate the carbon emissions that would result from Sierra Pacific Industries’ actual logging plans, the Department of Forestry has asserted that over a 100-year time frame enough trees would grow back on the company’s lands to render the logging carbon neutral.

The three lawsuits, filed in superior courts in Lassen, Tuolumne, and Tehama counties, asserted that the state violated the California Environmental Quality Act and the Forest Practice Act when it approved Sierra Pacific Industries’ timber-harvest plans without addressing the CO2 emissions that will result from the clearcutting.

“Clearcutting is an abysmal practice that should have been banned long ago due to its impacts on wildlife and water quality,” added Cummings. “Now, in an era where all land-management decisions need to be fully carbon-conscious, there is simply no excuse to continue to allow clearcutting in California.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.


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