Forest Groups Expose Timber Company Plans

Working on behalf of the Friends of Lassen Forest, the firm recently negotiated a settlement under which Lassen County agreed to reverse their authorization of the first steps toward the development of thousands of acres of timberland across the County. The settlement clears the way for a serious environmental review of the future of these lands, and potentially thousands of additional acres across the Sierra and Cascades.

 

The land is owned by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries, and is tagged with the Timber Production Zone designation.  Under this zoning, which is used throughout California’s privately held timber lands, the land can be used for timber harvesting and very little else.  Any sort of residential or resort development requires a rezoning.  Starting a few years ago, SPI began requesting such rezonings in many of the counties where it owns land, from Sierra to Shasta.  SPI never explained why it wanted these rezonings, but correspondence strongly hinted at plans for future development, turning these properties from timberland into real estate opportunities.  And logically, if SPI intended to continue using the land for logging, there would be no reason to shed the TPZ designation.

 

Without information from SPI about plans for the land, there was very little on which the counties could base the environmental analyses that must precede any such rezoning.  This meant that there was very little analysis, even though the rezonings represented a huge potential change for the land itself and for the surrounding communities.

 

A few local groups sleuthed out SPI’s true intentions and worked to force the counties to ask harder questions before approving SPI’s requests.  In Lassen County, Friends of Lassen Forest, represented by the firm, filed a suit challenging the County’s decision to approve the rezoning on the basis of such thin analysis and virtually no information about what SPI intends to do with the land in the future.  In the very early stages of the lawsuit, the parties began discussing settlement options, and before long the County agreed to backtrack.  In May 2009, the County rescinded the approvals, with SPI’s consent, leaving the land in the protective timber-focused zoning.  If SPI applies for a new rezoning, comprehensive environmental analysis seems likely.  Meanwhile, the High Sierra Rural Alliance has achieved similar success in Sierra County.  California has yet to learn whether SPI plans to go into the real estate business, but we have reason to hope that its next attempt will be pursued with greater transparency.