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THE STATE

State Official Deplores U.S. Forest Management

Federal agencies are accused of insisting on a policy 'destined to fail.' Forest Service says it expects to work with the state.

September 09, 2003|Bettina Boxall | Times Staff Writer

A top California environmental official complained Monday that the Bush administration insists on having its own way in its forest policies and ignores state input on management of the Sierra Nevada.

"They have this cowboy mentality -- just leave us alone to manage the forests the way we want to," said Mary Nichols, secretary of the California Resources Agency. "And that winds up with more lawsuits and more risks.... It's a policy that is destined to fail."

Nichols' remarks, in an interview, were made in the final days of public comment on a U.S. Forest Service proposal to revise environmental regulations in the Sierra's 11 national forests.

The proposed changes have become a flash point in the Bush administration's efforts to loosen forest rules and protections that it claims are too restrictive.

Arguing that the revisions are needed to allow thinning of forests and to make Sierra woodlands less prone to destructive wildfires, the Forest Service wants to triple logging over current levels and reduce protections for the habitats of the spotted owl and other wildlife.

State environmental officials and environmental groups have condemned the changes, saying they abandon standards needed to restore old-growth ecosystems that are in decline after more than a century of logging, grazing and development.

Nichols, scheduled to speak today at a Sacramento news conference and rally on the Sierra rules, said the Forest Service had ignored a state offer to work with the federal government to target fuel-reduction projects near communities and to identify funding sources for the work.

"We have been rebuffed, ignored and rejected, and we're fed up," Nichols said.

She said the Forest Service had worked well with the state in fighting wildfires, but in forest management the agency takes its orders from Washington.

"You don't want to be in a position of publicly attacking an agency that, in many respects, has tried to be a good partner.... They are being told they have to go back to a program of selling off more of the forests for timber production and the excuse is, 'We can't afford to let these areas burn.' "

Matt Mathes, regional spokesman for the Forest Service, said Regional Forester Jack Blackwell had directed that most of the logging and fuel reduction work be done near communities during the first five years of the Sierra plan.

He also said that Blackwell had invited Nichols to write him about the state suggestions several months ago, but had not received a letter from her until this week.

Blackwell "doesn't see any problems in principle with any of them," Mathes said. "He wants to look at it more thoroughly before making any commitment. But they're certainly the sorts of things we can work with the state of California on."

Blackwell is expected to issue a final decision on the revised Sierra regulations in November.

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