A bill making its way through the California state Legislature that already has the support of Gov. Jerry Brown could improve the prospects for timber harvesting on private lands in the state.
On Tuesday, Kent Duysen of Sierra Forest Products in Terra Bella told the Tulare County Board of Supervisors that the proposal that was originally part of the governor's May Revised budget, would place a limit on fire liability, extent the time frame of timber plans and place a 1% surcharge on all lumber sold in California to pay for states management of timber harvesting.
Assembly Bill 1492 by State Sen. Doug LaMalfa has been passed by the Assembly and on Wednesday was passed by the Senate Committee on Budget by an 11-0 vote, but it becoming law is not a certainty.
Duysen said Republicans opposed the bill because of the lumber tax, and some on the Democratic side oppose it because it could lead to more logging. When the Assembly passed the bill, Connie Conway, R-Tulare, voted against the bill.
Duysen said the bill does have the support of the California Farm Bureau and private property groups and Tulare County supervisors agreed to send a letter of support.
"It is kind of unusual to support something in Sacramento these days," commented Steven Worthley who represents the Dinuba area on the board.
Duysen said he was a little uncomfortable with the tax, saying, "This issue is a little controversial, but it will reduce our disadvantage."
The bill has three main components:
1. Places a limit on fire liability. Right now, the federal government can sue a private landowner for any cost incurred fighting a wild fire if the fire starts on private land, even if the fire is caused by nature. Duysen said a company, Sierra Pacific in northern California, was slapped with a $680 million bill which was settled for $200 million.
2. Extends the life of a timber harvest plan from three to five years, reducing costs.
3. Reduces cost to property owners who right now have to pay to have their timber harvest monitored, by having the lumber surcharge pay for that monitoring.
Duysen said key is liability insurance. Unless there is some relief, he said timber companies and private landowners will have a difficult time getting liability insurance. Without the insurance, it would be too risky for private landowners to sell timber.
Timber from private sales -- those not in the forest or national parks -- makes up about 25% of the timber the Terra Bella mill receives every year.
"It's not a particularity big deal, but it helps us get over the hump," said Duysen.
More importantly, California imports 70 percent of its lumber from other states or Canada. Duysen would like to see that percentage change in favor of California.
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