Forum: To log Sierra, or not to log? |

Forum: To log Sierra, or not to log?

Are Sierra Nevada forests ravaged, over-logged remnants of their former glory, threatened by clearcutting and tree farms, in need of respite from timber harvests?

Or are Sierra forests hardy, dynamic systems that grow trees more than 100 feet tall in a person’s lifetime, at risk more from wildfire than from logging (which could improve forest health and easily produce much-needed timber)?

Those were two opposing viewpoints speakers held Saturday at a forest management forum hosted by the League of Women Voters at Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley.

About 50 people showed up to hear 20-minute talks from Steve Eubanks, Tahoe National Forest supervisor; Bruce E. Van Zee, a Sierra College forestry instructor, and environmentalists Alan Stahler and Craig Thomas.

Eubanks kicked things off by saying the TNF grows more wood than is being harvested nowadays.

The Tahoe is 800,000 acres overall. Of that, 530,000 acres is suitable timberland, Eubanks said, and only 5,000 acres is harvested per year.

“We harvest about 20 percent of net growth per year,” he said.

Wildfire is now the biggest disturber of Sierra forests, said Eubanks. During a slide show, he showed a photo of a forest on the TNF near Sierraville with widely spaced trees as a result of logging to create a fire break. Last year’s 282-acre Treasure Fire hit the fire-break area and was easily stopped, he said.

Alan Stahler, science columnist for The Union, expressed concern about the proliferation of “tree farms” in the Sierra, clearcut areas on private land replanted with trees selected for certain genetic traits, such as fast growth.

Stahler worries that forests of genetically similar trees might be susceptible to disease or other problems.

“Are we losing tree genes that are going to be needed 100, 1,000, 10,000 years from now?” he asked. “Just think of the difference between a store-bought tomato and one grown at home.”

Thomas, of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, praised the Sierra Nevada Framework, a recently enacted plan to manage all 11 of the Sierra’s national forests.

The plan, which has dramatically reduced logging, is focused on restoring large, old trees to 4.1 million acres of the 11.5 million acres of Sierra national forest.

“That’s the component that we don’t have. That was the focus of so much of the struggle … to get … old growth,” Thomas said. For decades, starting with the pioneers and ending in the 1990s, loggers took the biggest, best trees, he said.

Van Zee told of planting seedlings to earn extra money in his senior year of college, trees which are now “well over 100 feet tall.”

“So we are getting old trees back,” he said.

Sierra forests grow by 2 to 4 percent a year – or 2 billion to 4 billion board feet. Typical home construction uses 15,000 board feet.

Meanwhile, California imports 80 percent of its timber, Van Zee said.

“The fact is, we can produce more,” he said, as opposed to importing from countries whose logging has “significantly less environmental protections than we do, any way you cut it.”

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