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Environmental & Resource Protection

Timber Harvest Review

The following objective is stated in the Santa Cruz County General Plan for timber production, "To encourage the orderly economic production of forest products on a sustained yield basis under high environmental standards, to protect the scenic and ecological values of forested areas, and to allow orderly timber production consistent with the least possible environmental impacts."

The California Forest Practice Rules (FPR) require Cal Fire to establish interdisciplinary review teams (including a representative of county government when the county government so requests) to review plans and assist Cal Fire in the evaluation of proposed timber operations and their impacts on the environment. County staff review of proposed timber harvests is focused on conformance with the Santa Cruz County rules as included in the FPR, with an emphasis on the protection of water quality and biotic resources. In addition, neighborhood issues such as noise, dust, scenic road protection, health and safety issue are also included in the County's review.

There are four types of state issued permits for timber harvesting: the Timber Harvest Plan (THP), the Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP), the Exemption to the THP, and the Conversion Exemption. If the logs are going to be "commercialized," (meaning loaded on a truck and sold to a mill), then one of these state permits is required. The County has various degrees of authority over these state permits.


There are actually several types of exemptions, but by far the most common is the 150 foot "fire-safe" exemption. This exemption is meant to facilitate the creation of a defensible space 150 feet from legally permitted habitable structures. Clear-cutting is not permitted and the exemption must comply with applicable County ordinances such as riparian, significant tree (coastal zone only), grading, sensitive habitat, erosion control, etc.

The County has no review or approval power over these exemptions. Cal Fire simply sends a copy of the approved exemption to the County. Staff reviews the exemption for potential problems and contacts Cal Fire to discuss any issues.

Conversion Exemption

Unlike the first exemption, this is an exemption to the Conversion Permit, rather than the Timber Harvesting Permit. The Conversion Exemption (CE) is only possible for an area of less than 3 acres and must be signed by a Registered Professional Forester. The CE is used to clear land (clear-cutting is allowed) for development purposes such as legally permitted houses, barns, corrals, etc. This exemption may only be used once per contiguous land ownership. The CE must comply with applicable County ordinances such as riparian, significant tree (coastal zone only), grading, sensitive habitat, erosion control, etc. Also unlike the first type of exemption, the County has both review and approval authority over the CE. The CE must be signed off by a representative of the county.

Timber Harvest Plans

The review of a Timber Harvest Plan (THP) is a long, complicated process. The County has review authority, but not approval authority over the THP, Cal Fire has the ultimate responsibility for approval and enforcement. THP's may only occur on land zoned " TP, CA, M-3 or PR (outside the Coastal Zone) and once approved, no County ordinances apply to the conduct of the timber operation. Cal Fire provides additional information here.

Non-Industrial Timber Management Plans

For all intents and purposes, the procedure for review of the NTMP will be identical to the THP. However, one thing to consider is that the NTMP is a perpetual permit to harvest. It will never come up for review again. Therefore, more care must go into the review of NTMP's with special consideration given to cumulative and future impacts.