Sierra forest plan upheld by Bush | SierraSun.com

Sierra forest plan upheld by Bush

Tim Omarzu, Sun News Service

SACRAMENTO DEWhen Mark Rey was nominated this summer to oversee the U.S. Forest Service, the Wilderness Society blasted it as “yet another volley in President Bush’s war on the environment.”

But the environmental group was singing Rey’s praises last Thursday after he upheld the Sierra Nevada Framework, a Clinton administration comprehensive management plan for 11.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada national forests.

Groups usually at odds with environmentalists criticized Rey’s action, including the California Forestry Association, which said the framework “dooms the health of Sierra Nevada forests, wildlife and rural communities.”

At a press conference in Sacramento, Rey, an undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture, upheld earlier agency decisions that rejected appeals by loggers, ski resorts and off-road groups hoping to kill the plan.

Still more work remains to be done on the framework, Rey said. U.S. Forest Service officials are now working on revisions to better prevent destructive wildfires. Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Jack Blackwell will announce a so-called “action plan” early next week, officials said. Rey asked supporters and opponents to delay legal action until they see the results.

Environmentalists fear the revisions might be a backdoor attempt to increase logging in the nation’s longest unbroken mountain range.

Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist, declined to offer details on the action plan, saying it will be announced soon.

Environmental spokesmen had nothing but praise for Rey’s decision not to throw out the Sierra Nevada Framework.

“Today the sun is shining on California’s ‘Range of Light,'” said Jay Watson, regional director of the Wilderness Society.

When told of Rey’s decision, Don Jacobson, coordinator of the Nevada County-based Forest Issues Group, said “I’m very glad to hear that.”

Jacobson is concerned more logging may be allowed under the proposed revisions, but he doesn’t think that would survive a court challenge.

Last month, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth also upheld the framework plan, and rejected 234 appeals.

Tahoe National Forest Supervisor Steve Eubanks said Thursday he wasn’t surprised by Rey’s decision because the Bush administration has made it clear it supports decisions of career professionals in the Forest Service.

California Forestry Association President David Bischel called Rey’s ruling the “worst decision they could have made” and one that will “add to the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”

His group and others that oppose the plan say they may take their cases to court.

Bob Roberts, director of California Snow, a group of Sierra Nevada ski resorts, said Rey should have scrapped the plan.

Ski resorts won’t be able to add new lifts if they can’t remove trees larger than 20 inches in diameter, Roberts said, which makes him “feel recreation has been a casualty of the process.”

The framework shifts the Forest Service’s emphasis from logging old-growth forests to protecting them on 4 million acres in the mountain range. It also bans logging of most trees larger than 20 inches in diameter, while limiting logging in a 460-mile stretch of California and Nevada to levels one-tenth those reached during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.