L.G. Town Council Studies Dangers of Logging in Mountains

The following appeared in the Los Gatos Weekly the week of March 19th.

Will logging plan affect town? Los Gatos looking it over now

Town to consider whether Apple Store can move in

By Jason Sweeney

The town of Los Gatos has stayed out of the controversy surrounding a proposal to log 1,002 acres of redwood and Douglas fir trees above the Lexington Reservoir. As the California Department of Forestry comes closer to completing its review of the proposal, the town has decided to take a closer look.

The timberland in question lies outside the town's jurisdiction. Last month, the town retained an environmental consultant to review all reports on a Nonindustrial Timber Management Plan that, if approved, would give Big Creek Lumber the go-ahead to log in perpetuity nine units of timberland owned by the San Jose Water Co. The environmental consultant hired by the town has been asked to determine whether the proposed logging would have any impact on Los Gatos.

The logging plan has been controversial since it first became public in 2005. The San Jose Water Co. and Big Creek Lumber hope the NTMP will be approved this year allowing logging to go forward, but mountain residents have organized in strong opposition. They argue logging in the mountains will have numerous negative effects on their lives.

Los Gatos has thus far taken a "wait-and-see" approach to the logging proposal as various county and state agencies review the NTMP.

"It's beyond the town boundaries by several miles," Mayor Joe Pirzynski said. "But a number of issues have been raised from this proposal that might have an effect on the town."

Pirzynski recalled the 1985 Lexington Fire that started outside town limits but threatened the downtown. "The fire risk is an issue that obviously concerns us because that is the backdrop to our community," he said. "We know that part of this proposal is fire mitigation, but we need to evaluate what the facts are."

Opponents of the logging proposal argue that removing large trees from the forest and leaving slash on the forest floor will increase the fire hazard. Big Creek Lumber counters that thinning the forest will reduce that hazard.

Pirzynksi said other possible consequences could be an increase in landslide risk, changes in water quality and more traffic due to logging trucks using Highway 17.

"The way we are looking at this situation is at what the potential impacts could be to our town, if any," Pirzynski said. "We may discover that the impacts are minimal to none. If we do find that the impacts to the town are significant, then at that point we will determine what actions we can take."

In January, several hundred people packed the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors chambers in San Jose at a public forum held by the California Department of Forestry concerning the logging plan. The majority of speakers at the meeting spoke against the plan, while representatives from Big Creek Lumber and the San Jose Water Company argued a case for responsible logging.

Currently, the CDF is addressing issues raised at the public forum and vetting a pre-harvest inspection report. The CDF is also waiting for data from Big Creek Lumber and from Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging regarding competing findings on the amount of timberland owned by the San Jose Water Co.

NAIL, a group of mountain residents opposed to the logging plan, maintains the San Jose Water Co. owns more timberland than state law allows for the type of logging plan that has been applied for. But Big Creek Lumber states otherwise.

If the CDF determines the water company owns more than 2,500 acres of commercially viable timberland, then the NTMP would be recommended for denial.

"This is a fairly controversial plan," CDF forest practice inspector Richard Sampson said. "There are a number of issues that we are working on--fire-related, endangered species, road access, the type of equipment to be used in the logging. For a large plan like this for as controversial as it is, I'm not surprised how long it's taking to review it, and I'd rather not rush it."

Sampson said the next step in the review process is for Big Creek Lumber to address issues and questions that have come out of various reports. If that is done satisfactorily, the report is then passed to the CDF Region Forest Practice Office in Santa Rosa for a final review. If everything received is complete, public comment would be closed and the office has 15 days to approve or deny the plan. Sampson said it is possible a decision could be made before the year is out.

NAIL is hosting a benefit on March 25 at the Redwood Estates Pavilion to raise funds to continue fighting the logging proposal and to pay for lawsuits if the plan is approved.

Terry Clark
March 24, 2007