By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
More regulatory eyes are focused on the timber industry now that Gov. Gray Davis has signed a bill to protect California's waterways.
While some loggers say Senate Bill 810 adds another layer of unnecessary bureaucracy to an already over-governed profession, others say coastal streams are the problem, and loggers in the Sierra Nevada won't see much change.
SB 810 gives the state Water Resources Control Board and its nine regional boards the power to block timber-harvest plans.
The water boards can step in if members rule that logging will hurt nearby streams or rivers already listed as "impaired," or polluted by sediment, by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Most impaired waterways run near the coast. No streams in Tuolumne or Calaveras counties have been labeled impaired, and work here will carry on as before.
Since 1973, loggers only needed approval from the California Department of Forestry before cutting trees. Now water boards must sign off, too.
Still, "it's not going to affect operations here much, unless the Department of Forestry allows our streams to become impaired like they've become on the North Coast," said Sierra Club spokesman Warren Alford.
But Alford, an outspoken opponent of clear-cutting where all trees on 20-acre plots are mowed down warned that neglect and too many clear-cuts could leave Sierra waterways in the same state as their coastal counterparts.
Removing all trees leaves soil exposed. Heavy rains will wash the dirt down mountainsides, which Alford said could choke now-clear rivers and streams.
Logging giant Sierra Pacific Industries often clear-cuts its private land in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
But Tom Nelson, SPI's director of forest policy, said his company works to protect watersheds and will keep that effort up.
"We see no need to add to the list of impaired watersheds," Nelson said.