SJ Mercury Editorial Opposes Logging Plan

The following editorial appearing in the January 30, 2007 issue of the San Jose Mercury News: 

Logging plan excessive for future of watershed


Mercury News Editorial

The fight over a proposed logging plan above Lexington Reservoir in the Santa Cruz Mountains comes down to two basic elements: fire and water.

San Jose Water Co. says it needs to sell the lumber to pay for fire-prevention work on the 1,000 acres of watershed it owns between the reservoir and Summit Road east of Highway 17.

Opponents say dirt from the logging itself will contaminate the creek -- and by taking out many of the tallest redwoods and Douglas firs, this plan could actually increase the risk of fire by creating a drier forest floor.

The best resolution for everyone would be the sale of this land to the taxpayer-funded Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The district already owns thousands of acres in the mountains and would be a good steward of this beautiful and environmentally sensitive watershed.

Fortunately, talks have begun. Unfortunately, a sale does not appear to be close enough to derail San Jose Water's application to log the area.

Some logging could be a reasonable trade-off to finance the clearing of brush, which creates the fire danger but has zero market value. However, the current proposal to take out 40 percent of trees over two feet in diameter is excessive.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection should consider a logging permit only with these limitations:

• Scale back the number of big trees that can be cut.

• Prohibit logging near Aldercroft Heights and Chemeketa Park, the main enclaves of mountain homes adjacent to the water company land. Like much of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this is an area where houses should never have been built, but that's no excuse for risking further instability now.

• Areas nearest the creek bed should not be logged.

• Logging should begin in areas farthest from the creek, and the state should carefully monitor the first few harvests before deciding on a blanket approval of a long-range timber management plan.

The open-ended nature of this application is part of the controversy.

Rather than a one-time timber harvest, San Jose Water proposes to break the acreage into nine zones and harvest them on a rotating basis. Each zone would be logged once every 15 or 20 years for six weeks at a time. Doing the work would be Big Creek Lumber, which has a good track record of leaving behind a healthy forest: Visit one of its logging sites a few years later, and you're hard-pressed to tell where trees were cut.

But for an indefinite logging permit, trust is a legitimate issue. San Jose Water is part of a publicly traded company subject to stockholder pressure for higher revenue. And while Big Creek today is an ecologically responsible logger, who's to say it won't be bought in 10 or 20 years by ClearCuts 'R' Us?

Public ownership is the best alternative for this land, which can't be developed regardless of who owns it. The sooner the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and the water company get serious about negotiations, the better off the community will be.

Original editorial may be found here 


Terry Clark
February 1, 2007