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Salvage Logging OKd in Tahoe Wilderness

Environmentalists plan to appeal Forest Service decision on removal of trees that burned last year in roadless area.

November 22, 2002|Geoffrey Mohan | Times Staff Writer

Environmentalists vowed to appeal a decision Thursday by the U.S. Forest Service to allow timber companies to log as much as 2,743 acres of roadless wilderness burned in a forest fire last year.

In all, the Forest Service will allow logging on more than 5,000 acres of Tahoe National Forest that was damaged by the Star fire, which burned 17,500 acres around the Middle Fork of the American River in August 2001.

No fire-damaged trees showing any green needles would be felled, however, and about 80% of the logging of dead trees would be done by helicopters in an attempt to protect steep slopes and fragile soils, according to the decision released Thursday.

Forty percent of the acreage that burned within Tahoe National Forest will be protected for wildlife, soil and watershed protections, including 1,811 acres of habitat for spotted owls and goshawks, the Forest Service said. But the measure that has drawn the ire of environmentalists, who have been watching the project closely, involves allowing salvage logging within roughly 4,300 acres of the Duncan Canyon Roadless Area, which has been nominated for wilderness protection.

"That's a Trojan horse," said Brian Vincent, an activist with the American Lands Alliance in Nevada City, Calif., who vowed to appeal the plan. "They want to go in and log big trees even if it's by helicopter. They want to take the largest, most merchantable trees. It has nothing to do with fuels management."

The Forest Service, however, said selective logging in the Duncan Canyon area, which sustained heavy damage in the blaze, would have a minimal impact, and would help protect it by removing dead wood that fuels fires.

"It won't preclude any future wilderness designations," said Richard Johnson, district ranger for the Forest Service's Foresthills station. "The Forest Service is committed to managing this as a wilderness area."

Johnson estimated that about 25 million board-feet of timber -- roughly enough to build 1,666 average California homes -- could be harvested.

"As a person who owns a house, I'd much rather have my house built from trees that are dead than from cutting green trees," Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman Ann Westling said in defense of salvage logging.

The Forest Service said its aim is to "accelerate the reestablishment of old-growth forests" and reduce the amount of dead trees that could fuel a future fire. Timber companies would bid to harvest the trees, and the Forest Service said it would use some of the money to restore and replant the forest.

There will be no explicit provision for timber companies to remove smaller, less commercially viable trees, Westling said. That material, which fire scientists say provides the most ready fuel for forest fires, would have to be removed by service contracts or other means, paid for by the Forest Service.

"It doesn't make any sense from a fire standpoint or a habitat standpoint, because the bigger trees are what's needed for nesting birds and those are also the trees that are most fire-resistant," said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, which will appeal the decision.

Opponents of the decision will have 45 days to appeal it, after which they can resort to litigation.

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