Old-growth trees to fall in the Sierra

Donald L Ferrt wolfbat359 at mindspring.com
Wed Mar 10 04:45:25 EST 2004


WESTERN ROUNDUP - March 1, 2004
Old-growth trees to fall in the Sierra
by Cosmo Garvin

The cover of the Forest Service brochure announcing the "Forests With
a Future" plan for Sierra Nevada forests. US FOREST SERVICE
The Forest Service ditches a collaborative forest plan in favor of
getting out the cut
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA — When U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture — and
former timber lobbyist — Mark Rey praised California's Sierra Nevada
Framework as the "the best effort to date to lay out a blueprint to
manage the forests of the Sierra Nevada," nobody was more pleasantly
surprised than Craig Thomas.
"I just thought, holy shit. It was beautiful," recalls Thomas, who, as
director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, had worked
for years on the unprecedented agreement to balance logging, fire
management and natural habitat on 11 million acres of national forest
in California (HCN, 8/27/01: Restoring the Range of Light).

The plan was held up as a model of public participation and
collaboration involving environmental, timber and recreation groups.
But it was approved in the last days of the Clinton presidency, and
Thomas feared the Bush administration might try to water it down.

Instead, Rey and the Forest Service not only defended the plan against
a slew of appeals by timber and off-highway vehicle groups, "they were
even eloquent about it," says Thomas. So eloquent that, after Rey held
a press conference promising the Bush administration's commitment to
the plan, Thomas was moved to proclaim, "Today the sun is shining on
California's Range of Light."

The sun didn't shine for long. Three days later, on New Year's Day
2002, the Forest Service's new regional forester, Jack Blackwell,
quietly announced that he was beginning a major overhaul of the
Framework (HCN, 5/12/03: New forest plan leaves owls in a lurch).

Two years later, the Sierra Nevada Framework has never been
implemented, despite the Bush administration's early promises, and the
plan's widespread popularity. Instead, the Forest Service appears to
have abandoned the broad public participation that marked the creation
of the Framework, in favor of a slick marketing campaign that touts
logging big trees as a way to combat wildfire.

Big trees will topple
The "Forests With a Future" proposal, unveiled by Blackwell in late
January, would allow the logging of some 450 million board-feet of
timber a year — almost triple the amount allowed under the Framework.
The new plan also abandons restrictions on cutting in 4 million acres
of old-growth forest, which were set aside for protection under the
2001 plan. Forest Service officials say the rules for "Old Forest
Emphasis Areas" under the Framework were too complicated to implement.
"It all looked great on paper," says Matt Mathes, spokesman for the
Forest Service's Pacific Southwest region. "But it wasn't a system we
could make work on the ground."

Supporters of the Framework say some of the plan was complicated,
because forests are complicated. "(Forests With a Future) totally
fails to recognize the complexity of forest composition," says Thomas.

Glossy brochures sent out by the Forest Service claim that the new
thinning plan will reduce catastrophic wildfire by 30 percent over the
next 50 years — a number that critics charge is simply made up.

The Sierra Nevada Framework committed 75 percent of its budget to
hazardous fuels treatment in areas near communities. Forests With a
Future reduces that level to 50 percent. It allows more logging deeper
in the forests, and permits the cutting of trees up to 30 inches in
diameter. The Framework had limited the diameter to 20 inches in order
to leave the larger, more fire-resistant trees standing.

Mathes says the Forest Service raised the diameter limit to help
offset the cost of fuels reduction. "It costs about $800 an acre to do
thinning. We have to pay somebody to do that. But a 28- to 30-inch
tree has a lot of commercial value," Mathes explains, adding that
"just two (big) trees per acre" can pay for removal of the hazardous
small trees and brush.

But the shift away from fuels treatment near communities — and toward
logging bigger trees deeper in the forest — is proof to critics that
the plan has less to do with fire protection than it does with pumping
up business for logging companies.

Process of elimination
The Bush administration is fond of talking about the virtues of
collaboration, but the public was largely cut out of the new Sierra
The original Framework was the result of nearly 200 public meetings.
"It was a massive undertaking. There was endless opportunity for
thought and opinion. And it was a scientifically sound process," says
Jay Watson of The Wilderness Society. Forests With a Future, on the
other hand, has been the product of six invitation-only field trips.

The process has angered not only environmental groups and their
Democratic allies, such as Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein,
but the Republican administration of California Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger as well.

Schwarzenegger had praised the Sierra Nevada Framework during his
campaign last fall, promising voters: "If changes are needed to the
Framework, I will ask the federal government to use the same
thoughtful, inclusive process that led to its creation."

That thoughtful, inclusive process just didn't happen, says Mike
Chrisman, Schwarzenegger's recently appointed secretary of Resources.
"It was very frustrating. There was very little direct communication
with the state."

Chrisman says he is close to presenting several recommendations for
changes to the Forest Service proposal, though he won't reveal
specifics. He will say that he's confident the state will soon "have a
seat at the table" in shaping the Sierra Nevada forest plan.

The deadline for administrative appeals of the plan is April 29. If
the Forest Service doesn't make significant changes, Forests With a
Future most likely has a future in court.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has said he will sue the
Forest Service if necessary to protect the Framework. "The original
Framework was the product of years of work by every group that had a
stake," says Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar. "Before it ever had a
chance to work, the Bush administration came in and changed it."

The author covers the environment for the Sacramento News and Review.
U.S. Forest Service 707-562-8737, www.forestsfuture.fs.fed.us. 
Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign 530-622-8718,


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