Feinstein endorses thinning forests | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Feinstein endorses thinning forests

Coming off one of the worst years on record for forest fires, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said current policy of not routinely thinning forests of growth and underbrush has been “a colossal mistake” that must be corrected.

“This is the worst fire season on record, with 6.6 million acres burned, $1.5 billion spent on suppression on a budget of $300 million,” Feinstein told environmentalists, forest officials and industry representatives at a meeting Saturday in South Lake Tahoe that focused on issues affecting Lake Tahoe.

“What we are facing in the future, right here in the Tahoe basin, is devastation from forest fire if something is not done,” Feinstein said. “All you have to do is go down Highway 50 on your way here and on both sides of the road you see it.”

Feinstein told the group, known as the Lake Tahoe Federal Advisory Committee, that she and other legislators want a new forest management policy to include forest thinning. Since 1993 the Forest Service has rolled back its forest policy, prohibiting large scale thinning operations in the nation’s forests.

Admitting that she has “gotten a lot of flak” from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club for her tough stance on forest thinning, Feinstein said she saw the devastation this year of fires in the Plumas and Lassen national forests that changed her mind.

After speaking with fire scientists and forest officials, Feinstein, who is considered a friend to environmental groups, said she learned that had the forests been thinned of underbrush, perhaps not as many acres would have burned.

“It is a controversial issue for the Forest Service and for the Sierra Club. I had to think about it,” Feinstein said of measures and policies being drawn up by the Forest Service to identify forests that are in danger of widespread fires because of the dense underbrush build up.

The fear among environmentalists is that new forest policy will give timber companies a blank check to log large swaths of forests and old-growth forests. Feinstein said that is not the case. It’s not about clear-cutting or going into the forests cutting down old-growth, she said.

“It’s about protecting the forests that we have, the old-growth forests, from forest fire,” she said. “If I didn’t think it had to be done, I would not be standing up here saying so. We must transition from fighting fires to preventing fires.”

Jeff Munson may be reached at (530) 542-8012 or e-mail jmunson@tahoedailytribune.com

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