To Save the Forest, the Trees Must Go   Don Bertolette
  Jan 04, 2003 14:54 PST 
ENTS members-

I am intimately familiar with the Lassen and Plumas NFs, and am very
concerned with the current administrations perceptions of fire risk
resolution and forest health. While I won't say there's no reason to cut
down a 34" tree, there should damn well be good reasons to cut it down
before it happens. Fire risk is not eliminated by cutting down large trees,
short of those instances in which they are part of a strategically placed
break in continuous crown closure (particularly where geography/topography,
or prevailing wind direction can be fragmented), and then only in small

Thinning of small trees (for instance those that have come in unnaturally
dense in the shadow of a hundred years of fire suppression/grazing/mining
policies) however can be very effective in the disruption of 'fuel ladders'
that permit ground fires to climb into the crowns, the crown fire
potentially causing much more damage.

Please respond to any pleas for help from environmental organizations on
this one!


  ----- Original Message -----
From: "Maurice Schwartz"
Sent: Sunday, December 15, 2002 7:00 AM
Subject: Article: To Save the Forest, the Trees Must Go

December 15, 2002

WASHINGTON - In the name of science, the United States
Forest Service has proposed the experimental logging of
half a million acres in two forests in the Sierra Nevada to
see how it will affect the habitat of the California
spotted owl and the ferocity of forest fires. But skeptical
environmentalists are saying the real purpose is simply to
give timber companies a chance to cut more big trees on
some of the nation's 190 million acres of public land.

The study is to be conducted in the Plumas and Lassen
National Forests, two of the 11 national forests that run
along the mountainous spine of California.

The Bush administration's experiment is designed on such a
grand scale that it will vastly increase the amount of
timber being taken from the two northern California
forests, which have been heavily logged in the past. Some
trees to be cut are much larger than current forest
regulations would allow: in some cases, up to 34 inches in
diameter, or almost nine feet in girth.

After a year in which forest fires raged through the West,
affecting seven million acres, the administration has been
pushing plans to thin the trees in places where years of
mismanagement - including the practice of putting out every
single fire - have left dense thickets of undergrowth.
Often these projects are aimed at protecting small
communities at the forest edge. But rarely do they involve
cutting so many trees, or such big ones, especially in
sensitive wildlife habitat deeper in the woods.

In its announcement of the project, the Forest Service
referred to the logging euphemistically as
"management-caused changes in vegetation," and said the
study would test whether the benefits of the cleared areas,
which would create firebreaks, exceed the ecological
damage, especially to the spotted owl habitat. Like the
more famous northern spotted owl of the Pacific Northwest,
the California species is struggling for survival.

Environmental advocates who have long fought logging in the
region, and some scientists, see this proposal as science
on the model of Japanese whalers, who take their harpoons
to sea in what they call a research project - one that
happens to put whale meat on the menus of pricey
restaurants in Tokyo.

"This comes to almost 30,000 acres per year of suitable owl
habitat that would be logged," said Chad Hanson, an
anti-logging advocate at the John Muir Project and a Sierra
Club board member.

The conservation groups say the plan is an attempt to
reverse existing rules, including those adopted during the
Clinton administration, that put much of the forest off

As evidence they pointed to the administration's
announcement last week of changes in rules governing
logging - changes that the government said were aimed at
limiting forest fires. The administration's goal was to cut
through environmental reviews, court appeals and litigation
that slow approval of the projects.

Mark Rey, the assistant secretary of agriculture who
oversees the Forest Service, said adversaries in the
debates should learn to trust each other and the

"I certainly trust the environmental groups," said Mr. Rey,
who was formerly a lobbyist for a forest industry group.
"They've spent millions of dollars on political ads to
demonize the administration, but that doesn't mean I don't
trust them."

He spoke with tongue firmly in cheek, knowing that
environmental groups are certain to challenge the
administration's proposals in court.

In fact, there was a big ruling last week on a related
issue, when a federal appeals court in San Francisco
decided to reinstate a ban on building roads in 60 million
acres of national forest. The policy, put in place under
President Clinton and challenged by the industry and some
local governments, is one that the Bush administration
wants to change.

Road construction is one problem that environmentalists see
in the California experiment. Another is the reduction in
canopy cover in some California forests to 40 to 50
percent, compared with 60 to even 90 percent before logging
- a result that is prohibited under the current forest plan
because of the likely harm to owls.

Limits on cutting large trees, on building roads and on
thinning the canopy were put into the regulations for the
region after intensive scientific study. The Forest
Service, however, said it would amend those rules, calling
the changes insignificant.

ENVIRONMENTALISTS are sure to object during the 45 days of
public comment that began last week.

"I think this is quickly going to spiral into a device for
getting around other restrictions on forest practices,
under the guise of scientific analysis," said Don Erman,
emeritus professor of forestry at the University of
California at Davis.

While the scientific question of how different methods of
logging affect the survival of animals and the health of
the forest is perfectly valid, he said, it remains to be
seen whether the experiment needs to be so huge, or indeed
whether its design is appropriate.

These are matters that scientists, not timber lobbyists or
environmentalists, should decide, he said, adding, "I don't
think science works very well from ideology."