By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
A host of high-powered U.S. Forest Service and Department of Agriculture officials gathered in Sonora Friday to brief the public on President Bush's Healthy Forests initiative and other national forest policies.
Mark Rey, Department of Agriculture undersecretary for natural resources; Regional Forester Jack Blackwell and Dr. Thomas Bonnicksen, professor of forest sciences at Texas A&M University were among speakers at the third annual Natural Resources Summit.
Attended by about 100, the Mother Lode Fairgrounds event which picketing environmentalists blasted as one-sided was organized by Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa, and Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, D-Modesto.
Speakers also talked about implementing proposed changes to the Sierra Nevada Framework, a $20 million Clinton-era plan guiding management of 1.5 million acres in 11 national forests in California.
More logging of both old growth timber and younger trees, in the interests of fire protection, is called for in Bush Administration amendments to the Framework.
Many speakers stressed that California's declining timber industry must be preserved to keep forests healthy.
"You cannot have a healthy forest without a healthy industry, period," Bonnicksen said. "Without the industry, we cannot manage our forests."
Phil Aune, California Forestry Association vice president for public resources, estimated that restoring California's national forests through thinning and controlled burning would cost tens of billions of dollars.
Maintenance alone, he added, would cost billions annually.
No one will pay for that, Aune said, and that's why it is necessary to have a strong timber industry that defrays some of the costs by doing some of the work.
"You have to thin the forest to protect the forest," Blackwell agreed. "This notion that if we somehow stay away from active management and Mother Nature will take care of things won't work."