13,500-acre herbicide spraying planned
Plans to spray herbicides on 13,500 acres of U.S. Forest Service land in Sierra County are moving forward despite opposition from environmental groups.
The targeted area is just outside Loyalton on the Tahoe National Forest where the Cottonwood Fire burned 46,000 acres in 1994 and where brush is re-emerging at an alarming rate, according to forest service officials.
Herbicides will reduce the brush while allowing trees to rejuvenate more quickly, said project coordinator Teri Banka.
“We are just trying to give the trees a boost,” she said.
But not everybody agrees, and some are surprised that the project is moving forward.
“Over 2,000 people signed petitions against this project. People don’t want it done,” said Don Rivenes of the Forest Issues Group, a local nonprofit. He said they have done studies that show trees growing at a healthy rate and that fire prevention can be done with manpower and tools.
The plan has been in the works for 10 years but has been held up by concerns, appeals and a lawsuit.
Forest Service officials say they understand that this is a sensitive issue, but they plan to move forward.
“We recognize that the use of herbicides can be controversial with some members of the public. We have been trying to remove brush by hand, but the brush is too well established,” said Sam Wilbanks, Sierraville district ranger.
Two types of herbicides, both similar to products found at home gardening centers, will be sprayed on brush by hand pumps. The project will take five to seven years to complete, forest officials said, and the public is welcome to observe monitoring.
The Forest Issues Group says herbicides pose risks for people and wildlife.
“The use of herbicides for this purpose is highly detrimental to the health and viability of native plant communities, is harmful to wildlife, and harmful to human health,” reads http://www.forestissuesgroup.org, the group’s Web site.
Banka said that during the environmental review process, however, these issues – along with other concerns – were addressed and the plan has changed as a result.
“We are actually using wider special treatment (near water areas) and are confining our use to just high-priority areas. Also, we are leaving some areas for wildlife and areas we normally would have sprayed,” she said.
Using herbicides on forest land is not a new practice for the Forest Service.
The Tahoe National Forest already uses herbicides for noxious weed control and other forests in California use them for reducing brush. This project will mark the first time a project of such a large scale will be done on this forest, however, and the Forest Issues Group and other environmental groups are planning to appeal the decision to move forward.
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