Diverse groups support new bill

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By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

With the House vote Tuesday to allow more logging on 20 million acres of U.S. Forest Service land, Mother Lode loggers, environmentalists and Forest Service officials predict good things for the Stanislaus National Forest.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., would allow Forest Service officials to accelerate fuel-reduction projects such as thinning flammable underbrush on 20 million acres within forests with the most severe fire risks.

Overgrown forests pose hazards with their small trees and brush that can serve as kindling for larger fires. In forests infested by insects or disease, the dead or dying trees are also potential fuel.

Tuesday's legislation passed 256-170, and now heads to the Senate.

Sonora logger Mike Albrecht, president of Sierra Resource Management, was pleased with the vote.

"Most politicians see the fire risks that this nation faces and want to see something done about it," Albrecht said. "The challenge is to translate this legislation into action on the ground."

Stanislaus officials seemed optimistic that they could do just that.

Jerry Snyder, forest spokesman, said fellow staff members have compiled a list of the 194,000 most important acres to be thinned across the forest. Almost all of that land surrounds Tuolumne and Calaveras county towns and subdivisions, Snyder said.

While there are no guarantees that woodlands around Arnold or Strawberry will be included in the final bill, Snyder said he wouldn't be surprised to find them there.

Even John Buckley, president of Twain Harte's conservation-minded Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, supports the plan one many other environmentalists have slammed for allowing too much logging.

"There is an incredible amount of money, logging and fuels projects that will be the end product if this bill gets signed," Buckley said. "There is also the potential for a lot of environmental abuse if the Forest Service doesn't bend over backwards to ensure adequate protection.

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