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In a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court flatly rejected a lumber company’s argument that the state forestry department is solely responsible for protecting waters affected by timber harvesting. The decision Monday upholds an appeal court ruling that said the Forest Practice Act of 1973 expressly provides for cooperation between state agencies in regulating the lumber industry. Specifically, a savings clause in the act guaranteed the cooperative authority of various state agencies, including the water board, to weigh in on timber-harvesting permits, the court held. Despite the clause, plaintiffs Pacific Lumber Co. and Scotia Pacific Co. argued that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had final authority in deciding whether a proposed logging operation complies with state water laws. Pacific Lumber’s attorneys argued in Humboldt County Superior Court that the savings clause applied only in situations in which the Forest Practice Act is vague or silent. That position, however, failed to sway the Supreme Court. “This interpretation makes no sense,” wrote Justice Carlos Moreno. “The very purpose of the savings clause is to preserve state agencies’ authority as to matters implicated by the Forest Practice Act.” The ruling, Pacific Lumber v. State Water Resources Control Board, 06 C.D.O.S. 886, vindicates environmentalists who took serious interest in the case and preserved the state water board’s power to regulate loggers. Pacific Lumber’s construction also ignored the “obvious meaning” of the savings clause, Moreno continued. “We take the phrase ‘no provision’ to mean what it says, that nothing within the Forest Practice Act � implicitly bars the water boards from fulfilling their independent obligation,” he wrote. In its decision, the Supreme Court said Pacific Lumber failed to develop a pair of claims in trial court that it subsequently made in the court of appeal and again before the Supreme Court. Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Stern said he was surprised the court ruled unanimously in favor of the water board. “I thought our position was legally very good, but I did not know for sure that we were going to win and I didn’t get that impression during oral arguments,” he said.

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