The San Jose Water Co. supplies 1 million residents in San Jose and nearby communities from the Lexington Reservoir in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They own more than 1,000 acres of the watershed between the reservoir and Summit Road where they have stated it is their intention to start a vigorous logging operation. Their plan is to divide the area into nine sections and log one section per year on a rotating basis, removing 40 percent of all trees with a circumference of more than 24 inches. They equate this with “brush clearing” and assert that it is being done to cut down on fire danger. A one-hundred-foot-tall redwood is pretty big brush!
Is this a joke? Mowing down 40 percent of the largest trees in the forest is not brush clearing. That would involve removing only the smallest members of the forest floor. Being that they are in the water business, you would think the company’s best interest would be served by preserving all the large trees, as they are huge storage containers for fresh water, as well as the carbon they filter from the air, and they shade the ground from the sun, greatly slowing the evaporation process and thereby conserving water. Top scientific experts have stated that in logging the area as proposed, the company will increase the fire danger, contaminate the creek, and do great harm to the watershed and forest ecosystem. Many local residents and environmental watchdog groups agree. So what is the San Jose Water Co. up to?
The company says that the logging operation is necessary to fund the real brush clearing effort and will provide a nice profit to the company at the same time. They have hired Big Creek Lumber to perform the work and are seeking an open-ended permit to continue the operation indefinitely. There are many other ways to finance the clearing of brush. It’s obvious that the real reason for the plan is that the company has decided to create an additional annual profit center with the watershed’s timber—great for the shareholders, bad for everyone else on the planet.
Private management of natural resources for supply to the public at a profit carries an extra burden of responsibility for the company involved and is quite different from ordinary enterprise. In taking on this responsibility, the San Jose Water Co. put itself in a position of providing stewardship of the land with regard to the greater public good. The company is violating the public trust with its wrongheaded plan, and the state should keep the company from cutting large trees and anything else besides real brush under any circumstances. There is a serious proposal in motion for the land to be bought by the public under the auspices of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which is the very best solution to this problem. The public should own their watershed and the land should be managed in an ecologically sound manner for the benefit of all.