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SOURCE: Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, March 18, 2003
|UPDATE JUNE 2003:The Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement is now available for public comment. The comment period will end on September 12, 2003. For more information see http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/snfpa/index.html.|
SACRAMENTO, Mar. 18, 2003 -- Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Jack Blackwell today announced his decision to accept, with a few refinements, a USDA Forest Service review team's recommendations to improve the January 2001 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (Framework) decision.
"I want to move ahead with changes that would fulfill the good intent of the original Framework decision," Blackwell said at a news conference in Sacramento. "I want to protect all of the large trees and the vast majority of the medium-sized trees on the land, while removing enough of the smaller trees to effectively reduce the serious risk of fire to wildlife and our communities."
The year-long review and today's announcement stemmed from direction following more than 200 appeals of the Framework decision. The next step will be developing a supplement to the Framework Environmental Impact Statement, which covers 11 national forests in the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Modoc Plateau in California and parts of Nevada. That analysis will document new information and analyze the proposed changes. The process will include a 90-day public comment period, with a final decision this fall.
"The common-sense recommendations that I have accepted came up to me from the ground level," Blackwell said. "Our district rangers who have worked hard to implement the Framework have told me that it's difficult or impossible to meet its good goals. For instance, the Framework's heavy reliance on prescribed burning to reduce fuels is not working out, due to limitations imposed by weather or local residents' objections to smoke."
More thinning is therefore needed to reduce those fuels, and Blackwell said it is economically prudent to offer a few medium-sized trees, with a 30-inch diameter upper limit (the largest trees cut in many areas would be 24 to 26 inches, because the largest trees would be left on a site). That would help offset the cost of removing the less valuable smaller trees and brush that are unnaturally dense due to decades of fire suppression.
"This increase in thinning has led some to say that we would double the amount of harvest," Blackwell said. "While it is true that this plan would produce about 450 million board feet as a byproduct, the original Framework estimate has turned out to be too low to reach the intended level of fuel reduction. Besides relying too much on prescribed burning, it also did not do enough to effectively protect the general forest areas from fire."
While some thinning would therefore occur across the landscape, 75 percent of all work over the first five years would be done near communities. Blackwell plans to strengthen that review team recommendation by shifting planned work to that wildland-urban interface near communities within a few months, given the broad support for that move. He further refined this recommendation by giving strong direction for close coordination with state and local partners in determining the locations and intensity of work, with old forests a lower priority.
Blackwell also strengthened the recommendation to avoid the 1,819 Protected Activity Centers (PACs), which are 300-acre areas set aside to protect owls. In addition to using hand cutting and pruning to lessen impacts near nest sites if fuel reduction is needed in PACs, adjacent replacement acres of comparable quality would also be found, where possible.
Blackwell also accepted a review team recommendation to implement the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group pilot project to the greatest extent consistent with federal law. Other recommendations he accepted would continue to protect wildlife while reducing Framework impacts on recreationists, grazing permit holders and the economic health of local communities. Details, including the review team report, are available at www.fs.fed.us/r5/snfpa. Also, a Notice of Intent to prepare the supplement will appear in the Federal Register soon with additional information.
Since first receiving the recommendations on Mar. 6, Blackwell has met with state and federal agencies, interest groups, forest supervisors and others before making today's announcement.
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