The California Department of Forestry is threatening to revoke Pacific Lumber Co.'s operating license after the Scotia enterprise tallied 88 violations of the state Forest Practices Act in three years.
Most of the violations -- dealing with road maintenance and erosion -- have developed from extending the harvest season into the wet winter months, a CDF official said.
Company President John Campbell said in published reports that he is taking the violations seriously, but added he thought the situation was exaggerated.
State officials disagree.
"We don't really perceive them as minor violations, particularly taken in the context of the number of them and their occurrence," said Jerry Ahlstrom, deputy chief of forest practice enforcement and litigation in a telephone interview from Sacramento.
The violations being considered are limited to 1995 to the present to comply with the three-year statute of limitations. Of the 88, 24 dealt specifically with logging roads, primarily drainage concerns such as proper ditches, culverts and other structures designed to prevent erosion.
"The general problem we find with PL is operating the road during the winter and not maintaining the road," said Dennis Orrick, a timber harvesting plan administrator in the agency's Sacramento office.
Although the state can only refer to violations in the past three years in attempting to retract PL's license, such wet weather-related violations go back even further, according to John Marshall, deputy chief of resource management.
Violations increased when the timber company extended the logging season into the winter, Marshall said. Because of the off-season operations, CDF developed specific guidelines for logging in wet weather. Marshall said his office has not seen that extension of seasons from other timber operators.
Second to the road-related violations were those impacting waterways, CDF jargon for streams or lakes. Nine times the company was cited for violations of Forest Practices Act code 916.3. That code, Orrick said, sets limitations for activity around a waterway, requires that soil and debris be kept out of the water and generally protects the stream or lake habitat.
A decision to revoke an operator's license only happens after repeated attempts to prompt compliance, CDF officials said. The first step is conducting inspections of harvest operations and talking directly to operators about problems, followed by sending notices of violations, issuing citations and, only then, revoking a license, Orrick said.
If the state does revoke Pacific Lumber Co.'s license, it will be the first time CDF has taken such action against such a large timber company.
"When we believe there's an ongoing problem for a long period of time then the department pursues licensing," Marshall said.
As of Dec. 17, PL had not submitted its application for license renewal. The current license expires Jan. 1.
In the case of Pacific Lumber Co., the list of violations and their corresponding dates show repeated offenses within days. In February 1996, for example, state officials listed four road maintenance violations within an eight-day period.
Similar patterns were noted in 1997. In October, two road maintenance violations were noted just a day apart while three water course or stream violations were noted in a 14-day period.
According to comments published in The Press Democrat, PL President Campbell said he believed the state's actions developed in part from the ongoing struggle between the company and regulatory agencies reviewing PL's long-term timber harvest management and wildlife habitat conservation plans. Such approval is required under the Headwaters Forest sale agreement.
Campbell said the company had actually scaled back timber harvests in recent years and stepped up efforts to prevent erosion.
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