On Jan. 21 the U.S. Forest Service rolled out its logging-friendly rewrite of the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan (the Framework). The new plan would triple the amount of logging allowed in the Sierra, increase the size of the trees that can be cut, loosen protections for endangered wildlife, and cut back the amount of fire prevention work around communities.

The revised Framework will permit trees up to 30 inches in diameter to be cut, rather than keeping the 20-inch-diameter limit under the original Framework. Old-forest areas, previously off-limits to logging, will now be subject to "fuels-reduction" projects. The plan allows canopy reductions to 50 percent in old-forest areas, even though this does nothing to help fire prevention. (The increased sunlight through a more-open canopy dries out the soil and vegetation, and encourages the growth of brush- the very thing thinning is supposed to get rid of.)

Preventing catastrophic wildfire is the reason put forward for making these changes to the Framework, and the fear of such fires is used to sell them to the public. The revised Framework, however, would reduce the amount of attention devoted to fuels reduction near communities in the wildland-urban interface zone (WUI)- the very place where forestry scientists say it will do the most to protect homes. The original plan had allocated 75 percent of its fuels reduction work to the WUI; the rewrite reduces this to 50 percent.

Logging itself of course increases the likelihood of fire. Larger trees, more attractive to loggers, are also more resistant to fire than smaller trees, and the slash left behind by loggers increases fire danger. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report (1996) points out that "Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity."

The new plan weakens grazing limitations and water quality protections, allowing forest managers to exempt grazing lands on a case basis from the standards of the original Framework. This would increase risk of stream bank and meadow erosion, and could endanger Yosemite toad and willow flycatcher habitat (both listed species). Under certain conditions, the plan even allows "fuel treatments" in California spotted owl habitat.

Ten years in the making, the Sierra Nevada Framework has been undone in one year. The Forest Service draft of the plan received over 56,000 public comments- so many that the agency had to delay release of the final document from October 2003 to January 2004. Yet none of the most objectionable features have been changed.

The Forest Service's changes to the Framework will damage ancient and mature forests and wildlife habitat more than the wildfires they are supposed to prevent. By emphasizing the cutting of larger trees, by allowing the forest canopy to be diminished, and by reducing funds for thinning around communities, the plan would greatly increase the danger of catastrophic wildfire.

In his campaign platform, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to uphold the original Sierra Nevada Framework. Recent statements by key officials in the Schwarzenegger administration, however, suggest that he may be backing away from his initial tough stance. Write to the governor and remind him of his pledge. Let him know that the revised plan will harm forests and the creatures that live in them without accomplishing its stated objective of preventing wildfires. Ask him to tell the Forest Service to rethink its timber giveaway and return to the standards and protections of the original Sierra Nevada Framework.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 445-2841 (phone)
(916) 445-4633 (fax)

For background information on the Sierra Nevada Framework, read our previous alert at: www.forestsforever.org/archives_reources/e-alerts/frameworkact.html.


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places