Sierra Nevada Framework update

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Thu Jun 3 07:46:53 EST 2004

June 2, 2004  North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

Environmentalists: amend forest plan

By Gregory Crofton

Bonanza News Service

Environmentalists say a forest plan that took a decade to develop and
provided protections for old-growth trees has been gutted by revisions
approved by the U.S. Forest Service.

The Forest Service, however, says the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan -
adopted in 2001 and meant to direct work on 11 million acres - was too
complex to use and did not adequately reduce fire danger.

In January, Jack Blackwell, a regional forester for the Forest
Service, approved an amendment to the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan that
allows removal of trees up to 30 inches in diameter. The old rules
allowed removal of trees up to 20 inches wide.

Allowing timber companies to remove some larger trees should provide
enough profit to cover the expense of removing smaller trees and
brush, which can act as ladder fuels in a wildfire, the Forest Service

"We can't afford to do the amount of thinning that needs to be done
with appropriations from Congress," said Matt Mathes, Forest Service
spokesman. "The new decision basically gives us a way to finance the

Environmentalist groups have appealed the decision to amend the forest
plan, but the 11 national forests in the Sierra have already begun to
use the new rules in planning for the project his spring and summer.

The Forest Service says timber companies will not be given a free pass
to cut trees.

"We must make our forest fire-safe," Blackwell said. "Large, old trees
will not be cut. They are not the problem. We need big trees for
habitat and other values. Relatively few trees between 20 and 30
inches in diameter will be thinned. The emphasis will be on
unnaturally dense stands of smaller trees and brush."

Groups such as the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign don't
trust the Forest Service and predict the agency will allow timber
companies to mow down what little remains of old growth in the Sierra.

"We need to treat surface fuels and ladder fuels," said Craig Thomas,
director of the campaign, which is a coalition of about 80
environmental groups. "This is a political decision to line pockets of
the timber industry that goes against all fire science out there

"Logging in old growth under the guise of fire protection not a good
thing. That's misleading. We are real tired of the Forest Service
having to do damage to our forest in order to do good."

Will the amendment affect the unique forest that is the Lake Tahoe
Basin Management Unit? Not much.

There are very few old growth trees in the basin because it was clear
cut in the 1860s to feed the operation of silver mines in Virginia
City. And Lake Tahoe, because it is a national treasure, isn't as
strapped for cash as other national forests in California.

Money started to flow to the Forest Service after President Clinton
participated in an environmental summit at Zephyr Cove in 1997. At the
summit, local, state and federal officials promised nearly $1 billion
to restore Lake Tahoe's environment in an effort to protect the
clarity of the lake.

"That gave us the means to accomplish some fuels-hazard reduction
projects without having to package projects in timber sales," said
Mark Johnson, a fuels specialist for the Forest Service Lake Tahoe
Basin Management Unit. "As I see it, (the forest plan amendment) is
not going to lead us to cut a bunch of 30-inch trees because of all
the environmental regulations in the basin and the Tahoe Regional
Planning Agency's standards and guidelines. Large tree cutting is not
necessary to promote fire hazard reduction."

The Healthy Forest Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bush
late last year, is expected to have an impact on the basin because it
reduces the amount of planning and paperwork that needs to be done by
law before forest projects begin.

"We expect the number of alternatives required to be reduced," Johnson
said. "That could speed up the time it takes to complete requirements
of the National Environmental Policy Act."

The end goal for the Tahoe basin, forest experts say, is to thin the
forest to create diverse stands of old trees where controlled fire can
be used to keep the danger of a catastrophic wildfire in check.

"A universal carpet of green forest is basically what have now," said
Rex Norman, public affairs officer for the Forest Service. "What you
want is a mixture of trees - different sizes, ages and diameters."

Comment by poster: I see that the same "preservationists" have the
same old vague fears that the Forest Service is going to bludgeon our
forests to death. The article also claims that the Lake Tahoe Basin
has "very few old growth trees". Mega-bullpucky! Yes, much of the easy
to get to timber was cut way back when but, there's still lots of old
growth at the upper elevations. 60" dbh western white pines, same size
sugar pine, incense cedar, jeffrey pine and true firs are still
plentiful. Also include in there some big thickets of very flammable
true firs and tons of dead fuels all over the ground from the beetle 
kills in the early 90's. At least one third of all trees in the Tahoe
Basin died back then, with minimal salvage as a result of
"preservationist" attitudes to "protect" Lake Tahoe. A big burn at the
lake will do more erosional damage than people can imagine.

Larry,     ex-fire lookout at Lake Tahoe

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