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Forest ‘Framework’ could include more cutting

The U.S. Forest Service’s long-awaited Sierra Nevada Framework will be unveiled today after more than five years of intense scrutiny and planning.

Almost pre-empting the final plan to manage the Sierra was an announcement that California’s Region 5 Forest Service chief Jack Blackwell will introduce a complementary package titled “Forests With A Future, A Campaign to Protect Against Catastrophic Wildfires.”

Tahoe National Forest and Region 5 officials were mum about exactly what Blackwell will say at a 10 a.m. press conference in Sacramento. But it is being billed as “a major new initiative to protect Sierra Nevada old-growth forests, wildlife and communities against catastrophic wildfire.”



Blackwell will be riding a wave created by the Bush Administration last year to thin national forests, with the goal of averting catastrophic wildfire. Environmentalists fear it will be an excuse for timber firms to cut down old growth and jeopardize habitat under the guise of thinning.

“We’re not against fire management and cutting small trees,” said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project and a Cedar Ridge resident. “Their proposal is to increase cutting of old growth. They know the science doesn’t support what they want to do.”




Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks has helped plan the framework and plans to be at Blackwell’s press conference. Eubanks said he could not discuss Blackwell’s announcement, but he admitted that wildfire will be a key issue in the presentation.

The message to thin for wildfire has been ballyhooed in the Sierra for the past 10 years by grass-roots Quincy Library Group and others as a way to get loggers into the woods to protect local economies and habitat for wildlife. Environmentalists contend the Sierra Framework and other thinning plans go too far and will be destructive, not protective ideas for the forests.

The thinning philosophy was not well accepted by the Clinton Administration but made headway when George W. Bush took office in 2002. It eventually spurred the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003. That law calls for more thinning on a national scale to avert wildfires like those that plagued Southern California last fall.

Last March, Eubanks and other Forest Service officials said it was impossible to protect the Sierra’s forests from catastrophic wildfire under the framework’s original 2001 plan for extensive hand thinning, controlled burns and reduced logging.

At that time, a panel of Forest Service employees recommended Blackwell allow up to three times more thinning in the Sierra than the original plan called for in 2001 with the advent of more logging. The original 2001 document figure of logging 200 million board feet in the entire range was upgraded to 600.

That recommendation was accepted by Blackwell, but how far he will implement it remains to be seen. In the logging heydays of the 1960s to the 1980, there were years when up to 1 billion board feet were cut in the Sierra’s national forests, and the Plumas National Forest alone produced 200 million board feet of timber.

Many California politicians objected to the revised framework, including now-deposed Gov. Gray Davis, State Resources Agency Secretary Mary Nichols and legislators who introduced a slate of bills to block it. Environmentalists have also threatened to sue if the revised framework is put in place over the original.


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