Policy & Regulation

All forest practices in California are highly regulated.

Public land administered by the USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are governed by a nine landmark laws of which The Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, 1960; The Wilderness Act, 1964; the Endangered Species Act, 1973; and the National Forest Management Act, 1976 are perhaps the most prominent1. Each of California’s 20 National Forests has its own land management plan that must be updated at least every 15 years. The objective of these plans is to manage the land in the public’s best interest for multiple, sustained uses and benefits. Consequently, the public has opportunities for input before final plans are approved.

Private forestland in California has by far the most stringent forest practice regulations in the US. These are formulated under the Forest Practice Act, 1973. This Act, and its regulations, are designed to ensure that timber harvesting is done in a manner that protects fish, wildlife, forests and streams. The Act is enforced by the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection that requires approval of all timber harvest plans2.3. These approved Plans are regarded legally as the functional equivalent of an Environmental Impact Report required under the California Environmental Quality Act, 1970.

The cost of preparing a Timber Harvest Plan for private industry lands is typically in the range of $35,000 – $55,000 and takes 3-6 months for approval. They must be prepared by a Registered Professional Forester (RPF). Small non-industrial forest landowners are also required to obtain an approved harvesting plan from the State Department of Forestry and Fire Protection if the wood is to be sold or traded. Costs of preparation of these less complex plans are in the order of $6,000 – $10,000.

Following catastrophic wildfire on national forest land the Forest Service prepares plans for restoring those portions burned that are priority for restoration. Adding time for public input, these plans usually take 2-3 years before treatments can be carried out. Then, it is common for these plans to be litigated, usually on the basis of procedure, which further delays restoration. On private industrial forest land, owners are able to have emergency plans approved and salvage logging is started immediately. Reforestation is done as soon as weather permits – usually the next fall or spring depending on seedling availability.

In most cases today, forest lands are owned and managed by people and organizations that are committed to long-term stewardship of the land. Managing forests in California to meet laws and regulations is complex and expensive – especially in comparison with other parts of the US. To remain in business, California forest industry has to be competitive with out-of-state producers who have fewer, less costly regulations. Inability to be competitive raises the likelihood that forest lands will be sold to developers for other uses. To keep forests under management it is essential that the industry receives public support.


1. https://www.fs.usda.gov/about-agency/regulations-policies/laws-regulations

2. https://www.fire.ca.gov/programs/resource-management/forest-practice/

3. https://bof.fire.ca.gov/media/9478/2020-forest-practice-rules-and-act_final_ada.pdf