California: High Sierra Rural Alliance’s Settlement agreement with Sierra Pacific Ind.

The High Sierra Rural Alliance announced the successful settlement of
a lawsuit the group brought against the County of Sierra and Sierra
Pacific Industries. HSRA had challenged the County’s approval to
rezone over 7000 acres of forested lands from a zone which limited
development to a zone which would encourage development.

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Under the agreement the property owned by SPI in a remote and
environmentally sensitive area within the checkerboard of the Tahoe
National Forest will remain protected from premature development.
Under the settlement the County has agreed to rescind the disputed
approval. Sierra Pacific Industries has agreed to cover all of HSRA’s
attorney’s fees and court costs, and HSRA has agreed not to pursue the
litigation in court.

The HSRA contended the rezone was not consistent with the County’s General Plan; and, the exemption from environmental analysis the project received was inappropriate. “The suit challenged the legality of the rezone. The settlement was the most cost effective
solution for SPI, if they believed their legal position lacked merit,”
said Michael Graf, attorney for HSRA. With the intent of expanding
into the real estate business, the rezone was one in a series of
rezones totaling more than 40,000 acres SPI has sought across Sierra
Nevada counties in California. The HSRA argued such a vast project by
the largest landowner in the state required environmental review.

The project was approved with an exemption from analysis under the
California Environmental Quality Act. HSRA spokeswoman, Stevee Duber,
stated,” the settlement is great news for the integrity of the Tahoe
National Forest. It doesn’t make sense to convert remote forested
lands for development in view of the environmental challenges we are
facing due to climate change and the critical role forests play in
enhancing watershed and habitat health,.” “Sierra County’s General
Plan is very specific about encouraging development around existing
communities and discouraging development in areas remote from existing

It’s a Smart Growth principle which is widely accepted and
supported by a diverse group of organizations, industries, local
governments and most recently the State of California in Senate Bill
375” continued Duber, “When these sorts of policies are easily
overcome, land speculation and escalating prices result, which in turn
creates more pressure for random, unconstructive development.”

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More info from Sacramento BeeMarch 9th, 2009 at 4:29 pm

Two Sierra Nevada environmental groups have settled lawsuits challenging the rezoning of 12,541 acres of timberland owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, the largest private landowner in California.

The settlements announced Friday rescind actions in Sierra and Lassen counties that would have changed forests from timberland production zones to those that eventually would allow residential development.

“We’re pleased with this decision because it puts the brakes on the unnecessary loss of California forestlands,” said Laurie Davis, president of Friends of Lassen Forest, which filed the lawsuit in August.

The zoning change would have affected nearly 5,500 acres that include the headwaters of several sensitive streams, the spawning grounds for the Eagle Lake trout and land next to a U.S. Forest Service wilderness area.

In Sierra County, the settlement reached with High Sierra Rural Alliance affects 7,083 acres along Henness Pass Road in a remote and environmentally sensitive area within the checkerboard of Tahoe National Forest.

“It doesn’t make sense to convert remote forested lands for development in view of the environmental challenges we are facing due to climate change and the critical role forests play in enhancing watershed and habitat health,” said Stevee Duber, a spokeswoman for the environmental alliance that filed the lawsuit in July.

Sierra and Lassen counties are among eight Northern California counties where the Anderson-based timber company had sought to remove a total of about 40,000 acres of its forests from timber production zoning. New zoning designations would start a 10-year countdown that would end the tax benefits Sierra Pacific has enjoyed under timberland production zoning, approved by the Legislature in 1976 to encourage long-term working forests.

After 10 years, the company could request new zoning designations that permit development.

With the settlements in Sierra and Lassen counties, only Tehama and Shasta counties have authorized the company’s rezone requests on a combined 6,339 acres.

Sierra Pacific recently withdrew applications for rezoning 34,237 acres of timberlands in Butte, Lassen, Plumas, Sierra, Siskiyou and Trinity counties, said Mark Pawlicki, a company spokesman. The requests ranged from 7,826 acres in Plumas County to 2,537 acres in Tehama County.

Although it has no plans for development, the company is not abandoning zoning changes on some of its 1.7 million acres, Pawlicki said.

Instead of a piecemeal approach, company officials want to take a more comprehensive view that adheres to the legal processes required by state environmental laws, he said.

“It’s the same way we look at timber harvests and wildlife – by compiling cumulative-effects analyses,” Pawlicki said.

In addition to lawsuits in Sierra and Lassen counties, the company’s zoning-change requests drew comments from state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Rezoning 3,846 acres in Siskiyou County on the southern slopes of Mount Shasta could affect hundreds of important Sierra species, including spotted owl, fisher and pine marten, Brown said in a Nov. 3 letter to Ruth E. LaTourelle, county assistant planner.

The potential loss of forested land also would contribute to increased greenhouse gases, he wrote.

Brown’s four-page letter challenged the county’s conclusion that the zoning change would have no potential to cause significant impacts to the environment.

The High Sierra Rural Alliance and Friends of Lassen Forest lawsuits raised similar challenges and disputed the counties’ claim that the rezoning was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Both lawsuits charged that the supervisors’ actions violated the counties’ general plans as well as a specific plan for the Eagle Lake area in Lassen County.

Sierra Pacific has agreed to cover the court costs of the two environmental groups.

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