Forest Service agrees to clean up logging site |

Forest Service agrees to clean up logging site

Patrick McCartney

The U.S. Forest Service will clean up several logging sites on the West Fork of the Carson River in Alpine County, responding to concerns expressed by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board.

But the chief of the Forest Service’s Carson Ranger District denied that a contractor has improperly removed trees from the river corridor, saying that the only trees removed posed a hazard to the public.

At issue are operations that are part of the Woodfords salvage logging project, a Forest Service project to improve the health of 1,100 acres of forest through thinning, removal of dead and dying trees and the use of controlled fires.

The remedial action outlined by District Ranger Mary Wagner includes spreading mulch over two sites used by the contractors to store logs before they are hauled away by helicopter. The Forest Service has also agreed to leave trees that fell along the riverbank when they were undercut by floodwaters in January, and remove hazardous trees that fell in the river without removing their branches.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the project plan was designed for summer logging, when the ground would be drier, said Tom Suk, an environmental specialist for the Lahontan agency.

“There is the potential for an impact to water quality, but no gross violations,” Suk said.

But several residents of Hope Valley, and one scientist who participated in the public review of the project, said they believe the Forest Service has stretched the definition of hazardous trees to allow the contractor, Sierra Pacific Industries, to remove more live trees.

“I don’t see any reason why those trees would be considered hazardous,” said Bob Wise, a Hope Valley resident, gesturing to trees strewn across the river’s bank in the Shingle Mill Flat area.

Wise said residents have counted 43 trees cut down within 100 feet of the river, where only dead or dying trees are supposed to be removed. Of the total, he said only eight to 10 appeared to be dead or dying.

Another resident, Patty Brissenden, said the trees removed along the river don’t appear to fit the definition of hazardous trees.

“They’re not doing what they told us they would do,” said Brissenden. “It looks like they are taking a lot of green trees and leaving a lot of dead trees, and that’s not what they told the public.”

Yet, Wagner said the trees marked for removal were considered to be dying, even if they may appear healthy to the public.

“The technical advice we followed considers the number of (insect) hits on a tree and other measures, including a dead top, that especially in firs indicate a tree is susceptible to insects,” Wagner said.

Bob Curry, the director of the Watershed Institute at California State University, Monterey, said he was disturbed by the number of trees cut down in the river corridor. He is both a consultant to the Lahontan agency and environmental groups that worked with the Forest Service to produce the Woodford project.

“Instead of removing a few hazard trees, they felled a whole lot of trees smack dab into the river,” Curry said. “The opening in the canopy warms the water, and the needles and debris in the water add organic carbon that results in a loss of oxygen and the death of small fish. We are likely to lose a year’s worth of young fish.”

Wagner said the Forest Service will continue to meet with residents each week to address their concerns. The meetings are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursdays at the Markleeville Guard Station.

Rose, who said residents of Hope Valley were generally supportive of the forest health project, promised to continue monitoring the project.

“In the end analysis, we just want to make sure all the rules are followed,” Rose said.

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