Sierra fire-thinning to increase |

Sierra fire-thinning to increase

Submitted photoThis photo illustration by the U.S. Forest Service shows tree sizes that would not be cut during forest thinning efforts for the Sierra Nevada.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

There will be more thinning on the national forests of the Sierra, but U.S. Forest officials Thursday insisted it would not involve old-growth trees. It would however, protect spotted owls and the forests from catastrophic blazes, forest service officials said.

They also said less than 1 percent of the Sierra would be thinned yearly on a strategic, piecemeal basis for maximum effect, but the service did not outline specific ways thinning would be financed beyond existing budgets.

Forest Service California Region 5 chief Jack Blackwell said his new “Forests for the Future” thinning campaign to be done in conjunction with the new Sierra Nevada Framework was a reaction to choked forests ready to burn.

“What we’re doing now is simply not working,” Blackwell said at Sacramento press conference. “We have a dire problem with wildfires and catastrophic wildfires that destroy forests and our communities.”

Local environmentalists fear the plan will allow more old-growth trees to be cut while failing to protect the forest and leading to more logging.

Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks said the framework and thinning plan will add about 2,000 to 3,000 acres of thinning on the Tahoe in near future years on top of the 6,500 being done annually now. There are 800,000 acres on the Tahoe.

Blackwell cited Grass Valley as being one of 850 communities in the Sierra that need thinning around them to be protected from major fires.

Blackwell said the final Sierra Nevada Framework will call for the following three changes from the original that came out in 2001 as the plan for the range’s future:

– Thinning will be done on a 50-50 ratio between communities and rural dense forests. Before, the ratio was 75 percent communities and 25 percent rural.

– There will be a 300-foot safe area around all spotted owl nesting sites, with another activity buffer out to 1,000 feet.

– Forest Service officials will monitor the thinning to see if it is working and if changes are needed.

Blackwell said the plan was inspired by Southern California fires last year, the Bush Administration’s Healthy Forests Initiative and work within the Region 5 office in Vallejo. He said a media firm was hired to help develop and present his Future Forests plan.

Blackwell also said his plan had timber communities in mind as well and bemoaned the loss of Sierra Pacific’s mill in Susanville earlier this month.

Blackwell said he would stick with cut levels recommended in March of up to 600,000 million board feet a year on the 11 forests, up from 200,000 in the original plan. In the heyday of Sierra logging from the 1960s to the 1980s, as much as 1 billion board feet were cut in some years, with 200,000 coming off of the Plumas National Forest alone.

Eubanks and Blackwell said the plan calls for removing one-fourth of 1 percent of the forests’ trees per year. They said the forests regrow at a rate of 1 percent a year and the plan would take only one-fifth of 1 percent of trees 20-30 inches in diameter on the 11 forests.

“We won’t take just big trees,” Eubanks said. “It’s not a clear cut. There’s a significant amount of trees being left on the ground.”

Chad Hanson of Cedar Ridge, and director of the John Muir Project, does not believe the plan will do what forest service officials claim. He said the original framework was balanced. Eubanks and other forest service officials said its prescription of hand-thinning and brush burns were not enough to get the job done.

Hanson said old-growth trees occur on the forests at 30 inches of diameter or less and are from 70 to 100 years old. He said the forest service wants people to think old-growth trees are older than that and much larger.

Hanson also said the strategic thinning plans will lead to mini-clear cuts of up to two acres apiece that could be pieced together for larger clear cuts.

“If it’s one 200-acre clear cut or 50 two-acre clear cuts, what’s the difference?” Hanson said. “Bottom line: this is a logging plan.”

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