Forest Service withdraws logging project |

Forest Service withdraws logging project

NEVADA CITY ” The Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest has backed off plans to cut trees in the Castle Peak Proposed Wilderness after the project was challenged by environmental groups.

Environmentalists had contended the project, planned for an area near Mount Lola, would have degraded wilderness values and damaged Perazzo Creek, an eligible wild and scenic river.

On Thursday, the district’s new ranger said the Forest Service has pulled the forest thinning proposal until it can better assess the cumulative impacts of other logging projects on nearby private lands.

“We’re taking a harder look at the cumulative-effect analysis, since we analyzed only a minor amount of the logging on adjacent land,” said District Ranger Quentin Youngblood, who was appointed in December to succeed Sam Wilbanks.

Youngblood said the Forest Service was unaware of some private timber operations at the time of the first analysis.

The Forest Service decided to withdraw the logging plan following a May 7 appeal of the Montez Project by the Forest Issues Group, Sierra Forest Legacy and the California Wilderness Coalition. Those groups, along with the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, Friends of the River and Sierra Club, had previously asked the Forest Service to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement with alternatives to restore the area using methods they asserted were more consistent with wilderness principles.

The Forest Service rejected the alternative, but has now withdrawn the logging plan.

The 16,000-acre Castle Peak Roadless Area is proposed for wilderness protection in legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Los Angeles.

The project area is home to several watersheds that supply drinking water to Nevada County, wildlife habitat for endangered species and outdoor recreational activities, supporters of the designation emphasize. The area includes habitat for the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, willow flycatcher, northern goshawk and the California spotted owl, backers say, as well as old-growth, red-fir forests.

Conservation projects are currently under way to improve the trout fishery in downstream waters of Perazzo Creek, while protecting willow flycatcher habitat in Perazzo meadows.

Those opposed to the logging plan said they were delighted by the Forest Service’s decision.

“We are extremely pleased that this project has been withdrawn and congratulate the Forest Service for their reversal decision,” said Don Rivenes, spokesperson for the Forest Issues Group. “Hopefully, the U.S. Forest Service will redirect its limited funds to pursue projects that protect wildland/urban interface communities and restore key forest ecosystems.”

Steve Benner of the Forest Issues Group, who drafted the appeal, said the Forest Service had failed to analyze the additional impact of three other proposed projects in the immediate area, as required by law.

“The Montez project was illegal as designed,” Benner said. “It is in the best interest of the Forest Service, our nearby communities, forests and wildlife that the logging plan was withdrawn.”

In the end, the district’s new ranger agreed to review the Montez Project in a more comprehensive way.

“We found out at the 11th hour that an adjacent landowner has a project,” Youngblood said.

The fuel-reduction and tree-thinning project may return at a later date, but Youngblood said it was premature to say when the new analysis would be completed. He would not speculate on the chances the logging plan would eventually be approved.

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