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New lawsuit targets SPI timber plans

By MIKE JENSEN

Through a new lawsuit, two area environmental groups hope to block the planned clear-cutting of more than 1,300 acres in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties by timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries.

At the same time, a Sonora-based logging company — one that the two groups have praised for its selective logging work — is defending the controversial logging practice of clear-cutting.

At issue is SPI's private acreage at the northeast edge of Tuolumne County near Calaveras Big Trees State Park and some of its land north of Beardsley Reservoir.

Environmental groups Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch, based in Arnold, and the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, based in Twain Harte, are seeking to prevent the total 1,369 acres from being clear-cut, as proposed in three separate SPI timber plans approved by the California Department of Forestry.

Specifically, the lawsuit takes issue with SPI's clear-cutting and what the company calls its "variable retention" logging method. Clear-cutting involves cutting all trees on 20-acre chunks of land and replanting seedlings. "Variable retention" logging leaves behind at least four large trees and some smaller ones on each 20-acre piece that is otherwise clear-cut. And herbicides are often used to kill vegetation competing with replanted seedlings.

The three state-OK'ed plans cited in the suit:

• Cedar Flat, 88 acres of clear-cuts and 382 acres of variable retention logging southeast of Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

• Curry, 38 acres of clear-cuts and 351 acres of variable retention northeast of the park along Beaver Creek.

• Base Camp, 40 acres of clear-cuts and 301 acres of variable retention on three patches spread out on three different sites about seven miles north of Beardsley Reservoir.

Logging on the Cedar Flat plan began April 29 and logging on the Base Camp plan began May 5, said Tom Nelson, director of SPI's forest policy.


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