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Sierra Nevada Framework under microscope

Erich Sommer

As the scope of the review grows, so does the unease of those in support of the Sierra Nevada Framework.

In what appears to be a step toward changing at least some of the policies put in place by a Clinton-era management plan for the whole Sierra Nevada, a top official in the United States Forest Service said he will contract with scientists outside the agency to review the plan.

Jack Blackwell, the Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, said late last month that his office would contract with a group of four to six high-level scientists to review the guidelines and policies of the Sierra Nevada Framework.

The announcement of another review comes just seven months after the forest service put its own internal review team in place.

Environmentalists and others who support the plan said they fear that an outside team of scientists is an indication that the forest service is looking to water down the plan.

“I think it is a great hypocrisy of the administration to approve [the framework] then continue to review it,” said Wilderness Society Regional Director Jay Watson. “It’s as if [the forest service] is searching for ways to show the framework can’t work.”

Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes did caution that the additional review team is only one component of a much-larger process.

“[The review team] is only one ingredient in a very large pot,” Mathes said last week.

Forest service officials have met with numerous teams of scientists, advocacy groups and industry officials, Mathes added.

But this is the only official review team, outside of the agencies own, that has been formed.

Dozens of scientists spent two-and-a-half years and $12 million in making the rules, regulations and goals of the framework that will shape philosophies about managing national forest lands and deciding what activities are appropriate.

In addition to the existing framework, eight other alternative plans were also considered.

Because of the extensive planning the framework went through, this additional level of review is a waste of the taxpayers money and time, Watson said.

“We have a million dollars being diverted into the review – and to pick five or six scientists to pass judgement on the framework is a slap in the face of those who worked on it,” he said.

The current plan proposes to cut the amount of board feet harvested from national forests in the Sierra up to 70 percent and will curtail the amount of land available for grazing.

But Blackwell’s boss, United States Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, affirmed the plan itself late last year after it was appealed by timber and off-road groups.

Bosworth’s decision was later upheld by Under Secretary of Agriculture Mark Rey.

Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman recused herself from ruling on the plan because she had previously done legal work for one of the appellants and most vocal critics of the framework, the Sierra Nevada Access, Multiple Use and Stewardship Coalition (SAMS).

The Sierra Nevada Framework seeks to manage the Sierra with a comprehensive conservation-oriented plan that is balanced with the best fire protection practices.

It does not apply to private lands, such as those owned by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries.

The roots of the framework go back to the first Bush administration, initiated in hopes of averting the timber controversies that plagued the north coast of California in the1980s and early 1990s after the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species.

The Sierra Nevada Framework will cover 11.5 million acres of national forest land from the southern Sierra Nevada to the Oregon border, including Modoc, Lassen, Plumas, Tahoe, El Dorado, Stanislaus, Sierra, Inyo and Sequoia National forests. It also rewrites the management plan for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit and portions of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in Nevada.

Many loggers and cattleman oppose the framework, claiming it will be the end of logging, grazing and off-road recreation in the Sierra.

Many such industry groups favor the less restrictive Quincy Library Group Plan.

But that plan, named after the town and place where it was formed, has been criticized by environmentalists as being to friendly to logging interests.

In fact, Sen. Barbara Boxer even quit the group over such concerns, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein remained a proponent.

As far as the reductions in logging, Mathes said earlier this year that such trends began well before the framework was implemented, noting declines from 1.8 billion board feet harvested in the early 1980s to about 400 to 500 million board feet in recent years.

“And that’s not because of the framework, it’s because scientists were telling us we can’t continue to cut at that rate and protect the forest and riparian habitat,” Mathes said in February.


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