California Scheeming

Every trip to California we’re reminded there are at least two California’s: the mostly sensible north and the rest of the state.

Fortunately, unlike our brethren in Northern California, while the weather is certainly warmer there, we can head back home to relative sanity, while they’re stuck in a state (legislature) controlled by the inhalers and loons residing in the south (with a list of notables including Nancy Pelosi, Senator’s Boxer, Feinstein, and of course Gov. (Moon-Beam) Brown, to name a few). It is a very different world, and they’re welcome to it, just don’t spread it around.

One slice of extraordinarily good news surfaced that same week, related the Moonlight Fire Case, of alleged responsibilities for the start of a wildfire that destroyed 65,000 acres of California forest lands in 2007.

Two years after that fire the Federal Government filed a lawsuit against the logging contractor alleged to have been responsible for starting the fire, and several landowners the largest of which was Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) seeking $791 million in damages plus interest. SPI and the other parties settled that suit agreeing to pay $55 million and, in addition SPI agreed to transfer 22,500 acres of wildland for public use. Sierra Pacific’s primary defense was to show that the investigation was unreliable and that none of the defendants had anything to do with starting the fire.

However Judge Leslie C. Nichols’ decision, released on February 4th on a second lawsuit, ordered the State of California to pay what’s been reported from $24 to $32 million to SPI for attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in defending against the Moonlight Fire lawsuit.

Even more enlightening was what led to the court’s decision. In imposing “terminating sanctions,” the court found that Cal Fire (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection “...engaged in the pervasive and systematic abuse of California’s discovery rules in a misguided effort to prevail against these Defendants,” and continued adding, “Had they (Cal Fire) testified truthfully from the start, as required, Defendants would have likely spent nothing, or very little, as the case most likely could not have advanced.”

During depositions, Cal Fire’s own expert on wild land fire investigations concluded that it was “...more probable than not” that the Moonlight investigators engaged in acts of deception while testifying about a primary aspect of their investigation. The Court held, “[I]t is this Court’s responsibility to review whether Cal Fire abused the legal process through false testimony of its lead investigator on the Moonlight Fire, Joshua White. This Court finds that Cal Fire, through White, repeatedly did so.”

Court decisions are not the most exciting documents to grind through, however this decision was riveting in its revelations both on what Cal Fire did and did not do.

The really good news in all of this is shining light on some of the slimy behavior of the many bureaucrats and attorney’s involved throughout this process, which as demonstrated by the court’s action to be well beyond the acceptable. Typically the best cure for slimy behavior such as we see here is shining the light of the public on those who like to slither around in the darkness and behind closed doors.
Considering this was the same information, from the same agencies used by the federal government in pressuring the defendants, including SPI to settle for an exorbitant sum of money and land one has to wonder if that issue will be revisited, to date no one is saying.

Considering the breadth and scope of will of deceit and at least implied collusion amongst the federal and state government agencies involved should be dealt with in the same manner most decent professions would deal with their rogues: dismissal at least and being tossed into the street at the very least. The court documents make it extremely clear their course of action was purposeful and with full knowledge.
The documents are publicly available though it takes a little digging.

We’d hope the sanctions will put a damper on the rogue bureaucrats and Cal Fire in particular, eliminate the entire lot and publicly recognize their zealous disregard of the law, and similarly dampen enthusiasm for rogue lawsuits from legal community in general. One could hope for disbarment, but as we’ve seen time and again, sanctions for attorneys are largely laughable, designed to disguise rather than remedy misbehavior.

At the end of the day this is very good news for private citizens, private industry and Sierra Pacific Industries in particular.

Bringing rain, but not freezing rain­­

Travel is part and parcel in the business of covering stories, attending conferences and finally producing Loggers World, which is especially true the first few months of every year. When the weather is reasonable, we can manage our time to the available time of loggers, we cover both local logging contractors in addition to conferences making that time spent more effective and bringing a length trip (of 9-10 hours) into more management segments.

This can be a dicey venture in the winter months, but undaunted ahead we trudged down to the Redding/Anderson, California area for the Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference a few days early to catch a story east of the Redding in the vicinity of Macarthur, California.

The trip south had us leaving on the edge of an arctic front from Canada in hopes of beating that front’s potential to inundate the Siskiyous and/or Mt. Shasta region with rain, snow and ice, which we did.

Next was final connection with E&G Logging’s Neil Gould for a day in the field with his company, which had great promise for not only being dry but include sunshine (not the norm for our Pacific Northwest)! The day was grand especially considering we were at 4,500 ft. or so, and the weather was predicted to turn very wet the following day. And although our day was clear, Neal commented as we left the site that there could be eight or nine inches on this site the following morning. Our good fortune noted we proceeded towards the hotel just outside Anderson, having dodged the weather.

The Sierra-Cascade Logging Conference (SCLC), most years, is comfortable if not warm, though on occasion we see some moisture. This was one of the moist years, moist from the opening bell from start to finish.

Most years if when the SCLC’s weather is damp, we are­ the butt of the joke for having “brought” the wet weather down to soak the conference... our fault!

This year, following an extended drought, those in the logging and forestry businesses were only too happy to see the rain, and we actually received what little credit was available.

The real excitement came on the trip back north, and not over the mountain ranges (as we rather expected) but in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, where on Saturday late afternoon or early evening the one weather event we find very unnerving, freezing rain, was forecast. On the rare occasion this happens the Interstate Five becomes bumper car mania. Thus as we’re driving north, and watching the storm’s progress on a smart phone, we felt blessed to make it to Eugene and settling in rather than crashing, yeah!

God does have a sense of humor! And the rest of the return, while foggy we finished the journey unscathed.