Tahoe Forest herbicide plan sued again
A clash between the U.S. Forest Service and environmental groups over the use of herbicides to reduce brush in an area recovering from a wildfire will land the two parties in court for the second time.The dispute dates back to 1997, when the Sierraville Ranger District first proposed poisoning brush in a large portion of the nearly 50,000-acres burned by the 1994 Cottonwood Fire to help planted trees mature in the arid region. The environmental groups, led by Nevada City-based Forest Issues Group, won the 1997 lawsuit, which sent the Tahoe National Forest back to formulate a environmental impact statement on the plan.Now, the revised plan and environmental statement has met a second lawsuit, which argues that the poisoning plan is unnecessary and has not received proper study.”Our concern is that the Forest Service is planning on doing large scale spraying without much analysis,” said Megan Anderson, spokeswoman for Forest Issues Group.Anderson said that her group is also worried that if this plan goes forward, it will set a precedent for future herbicide use in the Tahoe National Forest. The Tahoe National Forest has not used herbicides for widespread brush removal since 1984, according to the Forest Issues Group.This additional delay has frustrated Sierraville District Ranger Sam Wilbanks, who says the effectiveness of the plan is waning as the process drags out.”The delays already have created problems,” Wilbanks said, “because when the brush gets to a certain height you can’t apply herbicide.”Because of the delays, the ranger district will have to bring in machinery to cut down some brush areas before the herbicide is applied, he said.The manzanita and snow brush grew in aggressively after the fire that killed all vegetation on nearly 50,000 acres, Wilbanks said. Those shrubs are now sucking up the majority of the limited water in the soil, leading to a pine forest that is stunted and growing slowly.The Forest Service decided upon the herbicide plan because the fire was unnaturally large and intense, Wilbanks said.”[The fire] killed all of the plant life,” Wilbanks said. “That’s not natural and that’s not historic.”If some of the brush is not cleared away, the growing saplings will be highly susceptible to forest fires, he said.”Without some kind of intervention [the forest] is going to burn again,” Wilbanks said.The Forest Issues Group, along with the California Indian Basketweavers Association, the California Native Plant Society, Sierra Club, Sierra Foothills Audubon Society, and the South Yuba River Citizens League, say that hand crews could go in and clear the brush as an alternative to using herbicides. Californians for Alternatives to Toxics has filed a separate lawsuit against the Forest Service plan.The poisons, they say, will destroy habitat for deer, birds and other animals. The forest is growing back well without the treatment, making the herbicide unnecessary, they contend.”Our field work shows that conifers are successfully competing with native vegetation without the use of herbicides,” said Steve Benner, a biologist with Forest Issues Group, in a written statement. “Public funds should be used on the Tahoe National Forest to enhance natural resource values, and to restore diminished ecosystems and natural ecological processes, rather than for risky herbicide spraying of undemonstrated value.”
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