Today a coalition of conservation organizations filed suit in US District Court in Sacramento to compel the Forest Service to fully disclose the environmental impacts of a five-year, 6,400-acre logging project in the Plumas National Forest just west of Quincy, California. The groups question the wisdom of cutting older, fire-resistant trees that are important to both wildlife and fire reduction.
The project, known as the Meadow Valley Defensible Fuel Profile Zone and Group Selection Project, is the first of a series of proposals for the area as part of the Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act of 1998. Although the Forest Service bills the project as a means of reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the forests near the community of Meadow Valley, the sale would allow the removal of large, fire-resistant trees and may actually increase the community’s risk of fire. Furthermore, the project would result in the potential loss of approximately 4,280 acres of fire-resistant trees that also serve as essential habitat for the imperiled California spotted owl.
Ironically, according to Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, the Forest Service has recently conducted undergrowth thinning and prescribed burning in much of the area that they now plan to log under the Meadow Valley Project. “The good fuels reduction work that has already been completed will be undone by this project,” he said. “Cutting large fire-resistant trees makes no sense. The timber sale will remove most of the forest canopy and allow more light to reach the forest floor, which speeds growth of dense underbrush, creates hotter and drier conditions, and increases fire severity.”
“With consistent, continued management efforts, this land could be a model of success for taxpayer-supported forest fire prevention strategies,” said John Preschutti of the Plumas Forest Project. “But cutting the fire-resistant older trees out of a fireproofed forest runs counter to everything we understand about forests and wildfire. American taxpayers should be outraged that this is happening.”
The Plaintiff conservation groups support the use of established wildfire risk reduction strategies, including prescribed burning, thinning by selective removal of small diameter trees and brush removal. Their lawsuit does not seek a halt to continued undergrowth thinning in the project area.
“We share the concern of the residents of Meadow Valley and other nearby communities that our national forests need thinning of undergrowth, but that process is already underway in much of Meadow Valley,” said Craig Thomas, Director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign. “This project goes way beyond thinning and could actually increase the risk of wildfire in this forest.”
The Meadow Valley Project is the first of several similarly flawed logging schemes on the drawing board for the area. The lawsuit seeks to compel a more thorough assessment of these projects, including an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that considers their cumulative effects on rare old-growth dependent species in the region. The Forest Service failed to prepare an EIS for the project and has never considered and evaluated the cumulative impacts of these adjacent projects on the California spotted owl and other imperiled species that make the Meadow Valley project area their home.
“The sensitive species which depend on the established forests in this region will undoubtedly be influenced by the nearly 500 small clearcuts planned under this project,” said Mike Sherwood of Earthjustice, who is representing the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign and the Plumas Forest Project in this case. “We are deeply troubled that the Forest Service has not only failed to adequately consider this project’s impacts on the owl and other species, but has also completely overlooked several other major projects planned for the same area. This kind of short-sighted forest management is what led to the decline of these species in the first place.”
“The Bush Administration has a record of putting the economic interests of the timber industry above the safety of small forest communities. This series of projects is a perfect illustration of this flawed policy direction,” said attorney Rachel Fazio of the John Muir Project who is co-counsel in the case.