Logging halted in Sierra forests
Commercial logging in virtually the entire Sierra Nevada came to a halt last week following a decision by the United States Forest Service.
The Forest Service ordered supervisors in 11 national forests to stop commercial timber sale and logging until March 1, 2001.
Operations on 11 million acres are ordered to cease by Dec. 11.
The decision to shut down operations was largely due to weather, said Forest Service officials, but officials in Washington D.C. are claiming the action was a strategic move by to avoid an injunction filed by environmental groups who raised a suit against the Forest Service in an effort to protect habitats for the California spotted owl and Pacific Fisher (a weasel-like mammal), two Sierra Nevada species with low or declining survival rates.
“We filed for a preliminary injunction about five weeks ago and have been haggling over an agreement ever since,” said Rachel Fazio, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Earth Island Institute’s John Muir Project, the Tule River Conservancy of California and the Forest Conservation Council.
The plaintiffs filed for an injunction that would be in effect until the Forest Service finishes the Sierra Nevada Framework, a forest management plan that would ensure the safety and rejuvenation for populations of the endangered species.
The Forest Service has been trying to assemble a finalized plan since 1992. An interim plan was released in 1993. The plan resurfaced again in 1996 and most recently in 1999 but has yet to be finalized or implemented.
“One of the activities that will halt [during the ban] is the removal of biomass material,” said Dan MacLean, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Wally Herger (R-Chico).
Biomass, the summation of all dry organic material, is not only an alternative source of energy, MacLean said, it is responsible for exacerbating fire, which also destroys habitats for endangered species.
“Congressman Herger has been extremely disappointed the Forest Service has entered into a agreement with environmentalists that has halted operations across the Sierra. The Forest Service has overextended itself. This is the result of inaction on their part. Active management, on their part, could have avoided this problem.”
Agency officials with the Forest Service say they intend to finalize the Sierra Framework this month.
Environmentalists maintain the California spotted owl populations continue to decline by 7 to 10 percent per year.
Hoping to mirror a suit by conservation groups in the Pacific Northwest, the plaintiffs hope a federal judge will find the Forest Service in violation of the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, which require the agency maintain a “viable population” of all species found within a particular national forest.
The Forest Service considers the owl a “sensitive species.” Environmentalists petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in April for formal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Currently, logging operations have been ordered to stop in El Dorado, Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Sequoia, Sierra, Stanislaus, Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and Humboldt Toyabe National Forests.
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