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Star fire wood set to be logged

by Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A top forest official will allow helicopter logging of fire-killed old-growth trees in a roadless canyon about 10 miles west of Lake Tahoe.

Approximately $21 million would be raised through timber sales. The money would be spent to preserve the streams in the burned area, create fire safe zones and reforest the land burned in the Star fire, said Karen Jones, U.S. Forest Service team leader of the proposed restoration project.

Environmental groups plan to appeal the decision. They argue the canyon should not be touched and that money provided by the National Fire Plan should be used for restoration work. Appeals are due by Jan. 6.



“The disappointing fact of this whole thing is that we have had so many conversations with them regarding Duncan Canyon and they pretty much ignored everything we said,” said Jason Swartz, public lands policy analyst at the California Wilderness Coalition.

Jones said their input was not ignored.




“The interdisciplinary team did a thorough review of every public comment, which exceed 4,000 responses,” Jones said. “We identified substantive comments and responded to those in an 81-page appendix (to the record of decision).”

“It’s really about the board feet, getting the biggest trees out of there,” Swartz said. “It’s a bit perverse to log an old-growth forest to get money … to get back to old forest health.”

Swartz also disputes that the fire-killed trees officials have marked for helicopter logging — trees with no green showing — are dead.

Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks says the primary goal in the restoration work is to prevent a catastrophic fire like the Star from happening again. The best way to do that is to create old-growth forest conditions. The charred trees are only going to fall and create a fire hazard, he says, adding that no restoration work will be accomplished if the forest waits on money from Congress.

“Without these funds, up to $1,000 per acre would be needed in congressionally appropriated dollars for fuel reduction, which is not likely to occur,” Eubanks said.

Time is a factor. Burned and dead trees lose their value to timber companies fast, Jones said. Tahoe National Forest wants to allow timber harvesting to begin this spring.

The Star fire also burned a small portion of Eldorado National Forest. Officials announced their restoration plan earlier this year and fire-killed trees are being logged now. The part of the plan that focuses on burned trees that are expected to die is being challenged in court, Jones said.

The Star fire, a 17,700-acre blaze that started Aug. 25, 2001, was caused by humans. Officials don’t know exactly where or how it started. It burned Eldorado National Forest on the south side of the Middle Fork of the American River before it jumped the river and ran up Red Star Ridge into Duncan Canyon. About 4,300 of the canyon’s 8,700 acres burned.

The canyon is included in Sen. Barbara Boxer’s California Wild Heritage Act of 2002, which was introduced in Congress in May but has not yet been voted on. If passed, protection provided by the act would not allow helicopter logging of the area.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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