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USFS mulls pesticide use to control brush at site of Cottonwood fire

by staff

SIERRAVILLE – An environmental assessment (EA) examining the use of herbicides on the Cottonwood Burn near Sierraville is available for public review, according to Sierraville District Ranger Sam Wilbanks.

The Cottonwood Fire burned 48,000 acres in 1994 and left a landscape of charred trees and denuded soils. Since that time, efforts to rehabilitate the area have been one of the top priorities for the Tahoe National Forest, according to a press release issued on Feb. 11 by the the Sierraville Ranger District.

Protecting fire-damaged soils, restoring watersheds, reducing erosion, enhancing wildlife habitat, reducing chances of re-burn, removing fire-killed trees and replanting the area with both conifer and bitterbrush seedlings have occurred over the last five years.

More than 20,000 acres have been planted in addition to 10,000 acres of natural conifer regeneration that occurred on the site.

Currently, brush and grass are out-competing the conifers and in many locations threaten to stunt the growth of the young trees. Rescuing the vigor and growth of these newly planted seedlings prolongs the time required for the landscape to return to a mature forested condition. In the last five years, hand grubbing and pruning have treated almost 9,000 acres. However, the brush is growing faster than hand grubbing can remove it. Because of these changing conditions, there is the need to consider the use of herbicides to improve the growth and development of millions of native tree seedlings in the burn area, the release said.

Research in similar forest ecosystems indicates that when there is heavy competition from competing vegetation, some kind of intervention is needed in order to restore forest conditions in less than several hundred years.

“One has to remember that here on the eastside of the Tahoe National Forest, the conditions are almost desert-like,” Wilbanks said. “We often receive only 20 inches of rain a year and moisture is the main limiting factor for seedling survival. The brush definitely has the advantage in competing for scarce soil moisture.

“We were very lucky that the entire native seed source did not burn up in the Cottonwood Fire. In fact, if we take no action, there are thousands of naturally planted seedlings that could perish due to lack of moisture or wildfire. We want to give those seedlings a boost so that a complex, diverse forest had as chance to reestablish itself. We believe it is the responsible thing to do.”

The proposal, which is available for public review, is considering two herbicides familiar to many homeowners and gardeners – glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) and triclopyr (the active ingredient in Brush-B-Gone). They are biodegradable and will not accumulate in forest soils, plants or animals, according to the ranger district.

The proposal includes scheduling treatments over time and space to minimize any short-term loss of cover, soil or food for wildlife.

The new proposal includes treatment of 11,000 high priority acres with herbicides over a four-year time frame. The remaining acres are not a high priority at this time.

The herbicides will be applied by hand, according to the proposal, and no aerial application has been proposed.

A 30-day public comment period will close on March 14. All comments should be sent to: Sierraville Ranger Station; attn: Deborah Walker; P.O. Box 95; Sierraville, CA 96126.

For information, contact the ranger station at (530) 994-3401 ext. 6644 for Deborah Walker or ext. 6611 for Sam Wilbanks. Copies of the EA can be obtained at the Forest Supervisor’s Office in Nevada City or the Sierraville District Office.

A copy will also be on the web at http://www.r5.fs.fed.us/Tahoe.


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