AG files suit against Bush forest plan

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer this week filed a lawsuit in federal court asking that the Bush administration set aside its greatly revised version of the Sierra Nevada national forest management plan, generally known as the Framework.

Lockyer said the plan as revised by the timber-industry-friendly administration would allow timber harvesting to increase four-fold over the original Framework and as a result put homes and communities near the forests at risk for catastrophic fires.

“With no basis in science and no new facts, the Bush Administration has jettisoned the product of more than 10 years of study, public participation and consensus building,” Lockyer said in a press release. “What the Forest Service disingenuously calls a fine-tuning is really a complete overhaul that will make our communities less safe from fires at the same time it damages treasured forests.”

The Framework was hammered out during the Clinton administration to manage some 11.5 million publicly owned acres in 11 forests. It was finally approved by Forest Chief Dale Bosworth last November.

The complaint accuses the Forest Service of acting in an “arbitrary and capricious manner” in order to reach a “predetermined” outcome. The administration, according to the complaint, also hired a public relations firm to “promote the agency’s predetermined decision to dismantle the 2001 Framework.”

Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar said there could be a variety of factors behind the plan’s revisions under the Bush presidency.

“There are no changed circumstances and no willingness to let the previous 10 years of work be implemented to any meaningful extent,” Dresslar said, calling the plan in its present form “a sop to the timber industry.”

Lockyer’s suit came one day after a similar action was filed by a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign and the Center for Biological Diversity. That suit, however, attacks the implementation of the so-called Quincy Library Group plan, a controversial management plan worked out between locals, the forest interests and some environmentalists. It was so named because it was developed over years of meetings in the Plumas County Library in the town of Quincy. Opponents say the plan would have allowed for thousands of acres of clear-cuts and wide firebreaks.

The Framework, as originally worked out, limited the plan because of the effect it could have had on the California spotted owl, a listed endangered species that became the symbol of the fight between environmentalists and loggers in the 1990s. The Bush revisions to the Framework implement the QLG plan.

The revised plan also increased the limit on the size of trees allowed for harvest from a 20-inch to a 30-inch circumference. Lockyer says that only increases the chance of fire because larger trees are fire-resistant.

"We do not have to choose between fire prevention and environmental protection," Lockyer said in the press release. "The Forest Service seems to think otherwise, but we can have both. We can address our very real wildfire problem without the revised Framework, and without its heavy emphasis on harvesting old-growth trees. To see how we need look no further than the original Framework."