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Suit filed to halt logging in Sierra

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Environmental groups have filed a suit against the U.S. Forest Service in an effort to halt logging operations in 10 national forests across the Sierra Nevada.

“The government cannot continue to destroy these forests while it simultaneously considers a plan to protect them,” said Rachel Fazio, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Earth Island Institute’s John Muir Project, the Tule River Conservancy of California and the Forest Conservation Council.

The group wants a federal judge in Sacramento to prohibit logging until the Forest Service adopts a finalized plan ensuring the survival of the California spotted owl and Pacific fisher, two species which have low or declining survival rates across much of the mountain range.

The Forest Service has been trying to assemble a finalized plan since 1992 to protect late successional/old-growth forests that are home to the imperiled creatures.

According to a news release by Earth Island Institute’s John Muir Project, the Forest Service released an interim plan in 1993 which instituted some standards for protecting the trees, but still allowed large-scale destruction of the owl’s habitat.

The plan was set to expire in 1995, at which point the Forest Service was required to have a more protective long-term plan ready. Although the agency did produce a draft plan, it was never finalized. The plan resurfaced in 1996 and most recently in 1999 but has yet to be finalized or implemented.

Agency officials with the Forest Service say they intend to produce a finalized plan this December.

“We need to be stewards of our forests to sustain a supply of renewable resources,” said Breeze Cross, president of the Truckee-Tahoe Lumber Company. “Working with the timber industry, logging people and the Forest Service isn’t sexy, so you don’t hear about what’s being done to reach long-term solutions.”

The interim protections prohibit logging of trees larger than 30 inches in diameter and require maintenance of a 50 percent forest canopy in areas where the endangered species live, said Ed Brennan, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Sacramento.

The environmentalists say no more logging should occur until the protections are in place.

The lawsuit maintains California spotted owl populations continue to decline by 7 percent to 10 percent per year.

Hoping to mirror a suit by conservation groups in the Pacific Northwest, the plaintiffs hope the 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.

The Pacific fisher, a small fur-bearing mammal is considered by the Forest Service to be one of the most habitat-specific animals in North America. The animals are now found primarily in the southern Sierra, but inhabited the entire range at one time.

Currently, logging operations continue in the 10 national forests named in the suit, which include the following: the Eldorado, Inyo, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Sequoia, Sierra, Stanislaus, Tahoe and Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.


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