As Californians, we love our redwood decks and sturdy, wood-constructed homes. But most of us have no idea that 70 percent of the lumber we use has to be imported from out of state—despite the productive, beautiful forests in the Sierra, the Coast Range and other California woodlands.
A plan to reform California timber harvest plans would make local, California-grown wood more competitive and benefit jobs in rural communities that have suffered under current forest rules. As the state’s largest agricultural organization, representing many small-scale, family forest landowners whose businesses and communities depend on sound harvest planning, the California Farm Bureau supports the reform package contained in the governor’s May budget revision.
California forest landowners, mill operators and others involved in the forest-products business proposed the reforms as a way to generate economic activity for our state and help our rural communities whose economies have been depressed by a costly, cumbersome regulatory process that severely restricts the timber harvest. We believe the process can be streamlined and improved, in order to generate economic activity while maintaining environmental protection.
The key points in the package would allow timber harvest plans to remain in effect for a longer time period—providing more certainty for California landowners and mill operators—and would fund the review of timber harvest plans through a 1 percent assessment on all wood sold in California.
Right now, because of the significant harvest planning costs that California forest landowners face, out-of-state producers—who have relatively few planning costs—have a huge advantage in selling wood to California. Our costs in California will still be higher, but spreading the assessment to all who sell wood in the state will make the market much more competitive—and competitive markets help consumers. We believe California consumers will benefit from lower lumber prices when the reforms take effect, which is why the California Building Industry Association supports this proposal.
Consumers will benefit in another way, as the reform package reduces hidden costs passed along in utility bills and wildfire insurance rates. Right now, the federal government can seek extraordinary amounts of money if a fire that starts on private land spreads onto federal land. It can seek those damages even if the private landowner isn’t at fault, for instance in the case of a lightning strike. That drives up insurance costs, which utilities that own forestland pass on to their ratepayers.
By placing reasonable limits on the amount of damages the federal government can seek, the reforms allow affordable insurance rates for private landowners while assuring the government can collect enough money to restore land damaged by wildfires.
The reforms will also stimulate rural economies. During the past 20 years, even during the building boom, California lumber mills and factories have closed at an alarming rate. More than 80 percent of those mills have been shuttered, unable to remain competitive as regulation forced production costs to unsustainable, uncompetitive levels.
The timber harvest plan reform package offers an opportunity to revive a business that has been an integral part of California throughout its history, while maintaining the environmental values that our citizens demand. That’s why the reforms have brought support from a broad coalition that includes the Building Industry Association, California Cattlemen’s Association, California Railroad Industry, Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, the California Forestry Association and the tens of thousands of employees who count on the continued competitiveness of the lumber business to support their families and communities.
The reform package promises real relief for an important enterprise that prides itself on environmental stewardship while providing good-paying jobs in areas with some of the highest unemployment rates in California. It deserves support.