Report: USFS diverted funds from fire-protection services
Cedar Ridge environmentalist Chad Hanson released a report Thursday claiming that public funds intended for fire-protection projects in the Sierra Nevada are being diverted by the U.S. Forest Service for logging operations.
The study by Hanson’s nonprofit conservation group, the John Muir Project, contends taxpayer money has been used for cutting trees on 56,000 acres of overgrown forests, instead of for clearing heavy brush around homes.
A timber industry representative dismissed Hanson’s report as “propaganda.” And Forest Service officials said the 20-page report does not recognize that commercial timber cutting has helped reduce overgrown forests around the nation.
“Unlike the old days, timber production is no longer the driving force for us,” Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said. “Protection from fire is now the driving force.”
Hanson claimed the Forest Service has not followed the funding intent of the National Fire Plan, a project approved by Congress two years ago to protect rural towns, wildlife and watersheds from wildfires.
“The biggest offenders are the Plumas and Lassen national forests,” Hanson said. “I think they’ve got a naturally cozy relationship with Sierra Pacific Industries. They get the lion’s share of what’s taken.”
His report claims that 83 percent of new projects funded under the National Fire Plan involve commercial logging. None of the projects focus on removing flammable undergrowth near homes, and the average distance to the nearest town is six or seven miles, the study said.
The timber industry and environmentalists have battled over whether fire-prevention efforts are used to cover attempts to boost commercial logging. Timber industry officials defend their actions, noting that commercial logging in federal forests has dropped more than 90 percent in 10 years.
“It’s too bad that propaganda is getting in the way of sound decision-making based upon sound science,” said Chris Nance, a California Forestry Association spokesman. “Science is driving this process, not whether the trees are marketable.”
Mathes said the study fails to address that 14 of the 16 projects cited are in the Lassen and Plumas national forests. Those areas are covered by different rules signed into law in 1998 by President Bill Clinton. The law allows logging deep in the forest to prevent a fire before it reaches a town.
Ed Bond, spokesman for Sierra Pacific Industries, was out of town Thursday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Hanson’s “Getting Burned by Logging” report was designed and produced by the outdoor clothing company Patagonia.
On the Net
For copies of Hanson’s report, call the John Muir Project at 273-9290. Eventually, it will be posted on the organization’s Web site
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