Sierra Nevada forest plan stalled

Apparently a letter protesting the so-called Sierra Nevada Framework sent in November and signed by 31 congressmen, including our own Wally Herger, has had more effect than previously thought on how the Bush administration will implement the forest management plan.

The congressmen charged that the plan did not provide enough fire protection and unfairly locked out timber, recreation and grazing interests. Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, last week upheld the management plan.

However, with his affirmation USDA Undersecretary Mark Rey left open the opportunity to re-evaluate the plan that manages 11 million acres within 11 national forests in California. And there are plenty of groups who’d like to see that re-evaluation because they are unhappy with the current state of the framework, which was launched eight years ago under the Clinton administration and was the recipient of more than 40,000 public comments during its creation.

Now those groups may get their wish. Environmental interests, who support the plan as is, initially thought changes would be minor at best. But on Dec. 31, newly installed Regional Forester Jack Blackwell released a 10-page “action plan” and announced there would be a broad review of the framework over the next year, particularly in the areas of timber, grazing and recreation.

Conservative congressmen like Herger, R-Marysville, as well as many appointees within the Bush administration, view the national forests more as commodities resources than simply as places to maintain wildlife habitat.

The plan currently reduces by nearly half the amount of timber to be taken annually from the Sierra’s national forests and prohibits the harvesting of trees with diameters greater than 20 inches. In November, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth upheld the plan by denying some 230 appeals.

Opponents said the plan is tainted with the fingerprints of the Clinton administration and as such should be scrapped under the Bush administration.

“I think the administration should have reversed Chief Bosworth’s decision to uphold the Sierra plan and instead re-energize local planning efforts done on individual forests,” said Don Amador, of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, which represents off-road-vehicle enthusiasts. “Everyone knows the Sierra plan was hand-crafted by Clinton appointees in Washington, D.C.”

After Boswell announced he would uphold the plan, the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign said it was pleased and that changes would be limited at most.

“They don’t have a lot of latitude to change it, unless they want to go back and redo the environmental report,” said Steve Evans, a former Chicoan and member of the SNFPC steering committee. “And that would be costly and time consuming. They want to avoid that.”

Evans said the plan is based on such sound scientific research that it can’t, in good faith, be overturned.

But now, with Blackwell’s announcement, how the plan will be implemented is still up in the air. Environmentalists are skeptical, while timber, recreation and grazing interests are hopeful. The matter could well end up in federal court, with lawsuits filed by either side, depending on how great or how small the changes made over the next year.