A U.S. Forest Service report to be released today endorses a logging increase across more than 2 million acres of national forest in Northern California.
The document, a draft environmental impact statement, deals with a congressionally approved logging blueprint, known as the Quincy plan, hammered out several years ago by a coalition of small-town citizens seeking a resolution to the bitter ongoing fights over tree-cutting in the Sierra Nevada.
Ironically, the report may foster more debate, for it recommends two logging alternatives.
One essentially reflects the Quincy plan, which would allow more tree and brush cutting in the most fire-prone areas of three national forests: Plumas, Lassen and the northern third of Tahoe.
The second alternative would also permit more logging than now allowed--but not as much as the Quincy compromise.
The draft report will be offered for public comment, and a final impact statement will be drawn up later. The forest service will then decide which route to take.
Lee Anne Taylor, a forest service public affairs officer, said two alternatives were offered because the agency remains unsure of logging's effect on the California spotted owl and the Pacific fisher, the latter a member of the weasel family that is on the sensitive species list.
"We have some work that still needs to be done in terms of assessing suitable habitat for the spotted owl and Pacific fisher. And until that work is completed, this is where we are," Taylor said.
The forest service released a summary of the environmental report Thursday, and initial reaction indicated that it will not satisfy either side.
Environmentalists, many of whom criticized the original Quincy agreement, continued their attack.
"Either of these plans is going to cause a lot of damage to the forest," said Barbara Boyle, regional director of the Sierra Club. "They have not done enough analysis of the impacts on sensitive wildlife species."
Calling the second logging proposal "Quincy light," Wilderness Society Regional Director Jay Watson likewise said: "Both alternatives . . . will have unacceptable impacts on forest resources and are out of step with a science-based conservation plan that is needed for the Sierra."
At the same time, members of the group that developed the Quincy plan faulted the second alternative endorsed by the forest service.
"It's trying to downsize the program," said forester Frank Stewart, who works for the various counties that would be affected by the Quincy plan. "It's time to move on down the road" with the original blueprint.
The Quincy plan, adopted by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton last year, was the product of five years of meetings in the Quincy public library by a local coalition that included environmental activists, business owners, a homemaker and county officials.
It called for an increase in logging, particularly to thin the forest of brush and small trees that could fuel raging fires. It also protected the largest and oldest trees and left untouched tens of thousands of acres of forest.
"The biggest threat to all resources in the Sierra is the potential of catastrophic fires," said Stewart, arguing that more modest logging plans would leave too much fuel in the forest.
All told, the area affected by the proposals stretches out over 2.4 million acres.
Under regulations adopted in 1993, about 124 million board feet a year of saw logs are cut in the area, according to the forest service. Additionally, 103,000 tons a year of brush and small trees are removed.
Under the Quincy plan, the saw log harvest would increase to about 319 million board feet annually, and 266,000 tons of brush and small trees would be cleared.
Under the second alternative in the impact statement, 206 million board feet a year of saw logs would be cut and 128,600 tons of brush and small trees removed.