Increased logging planned in Sierra
March 19, 2003
Plans that would allow trees up to 30 inches in diameter to be cut from the Lake Tahoe Basin and the 10 other national forests in California were approved Tuesday by the the U.S. Forest Service.
The move is meant to prevent a repeat of last year’s wildfires that ravaged the West, said Jack Blackwell, Forest Service Pacific Southwest regional forester.
“I want to protect all the large trees and the vast majority of medium-sized trees on the land while removing enough of the smaller trees to effectively reduce the serious risk of fire to wildlife and our communities,” Blackwell said.
The stamp of approval sets in motion the start of an environmental report to analyze the impact of changes proposed for the Sierra Nevada Framework, a set of rules adopted to manage the forest and its wildlife. It was enacted in 2001 after more than a decade and $20 million worth of work.
Critics of the plan argue that under the guidance of the Bush Administration, the Forest Service has failed to implement polices within the framework they say already address fire dangers in the Sierra Nevada.
“There has been a problem with fire suppression in the last 100 years and we recognize that,” said Jason Swartz, public land policy analyst for the California Wilderness Coalition.
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“But the proposed changes to the framework would allow people to go to remote places and log big trees. We see that as tragic,” Swartz said. “It’s disingenuous because (the Forest Service) haven’t tried to work within the framework.”
The U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit supports the framework review because it sees inconsistencies.
“We don’t have a problem with the goals, they’ve been great,” said Rex Norman, spokesman for the unit. “We have had problems following the standards and guidelines.”
The framework today, for example, does not account for differences in plant and tree types that exist between the West Shore and the East Shore, Norman said. The East Shore is much drier than the West, therefore different forest management techniques are needed.
Louis Blumberg, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said such details should be worked out as the framework is implemented. The California Resources Agency, which the department of forestry is part of, presented a plan to Blackwell last week that would allow fire protection work to happen this summer.
“Rather than do more studies, let’s get on with the work,” Blumberg said. “(The Forest Service) has not made a sincere effort to implement the framework. Its message all along that it’s too restrictive and doesn’t work has become self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Blackwell also said at his press conference in Sacramento on Tuesday that the framework’s reliance on prescribed burning “is not working out, due to limitations imposed by weather or local residents’ objections to smoke.”
On Sunday the Forest Service wrapped up a 137-acre controlled burn of wood cut from overstocked forests near Glenbrook, a community at the East Shore.
Norman said the Glenbrook burns went well, but as the dry conditions in the Sierra worsen, prescribed burning will be more difficult to accomplish.
“As you know we’re in great big bowl and we have to be very careful when and where to use prescribed fire,” Norman said. “The next five years out, we’ll rely more on the mechanical side, sometimes chipping, sometimes cut to length, or cut and hauled. And we’ll continue to use pile burning.”
Forest management proposals supported by Blackwell would also concentrate 75 percent of the thinning work around communities in an effort to create fire defense zones. The Forest Service already embraces that strategy, Norman said, given the nature of the basin and the large amount of forest that mingles with communities.
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org