Lawmakers say Sierra overgrown

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WASHINGTON (AP) Citing the recent California wildfires, Republicans and a few Democrats representing the state in Congress warned this week that the Sierra Nevada is dangerously overgrown and urged ''common sense'' revisions to a management plan for the forest.

The lawmakers' letter to Regional Forester Jack Blackwell, the top U.S. Forest Service official for California, comes as he prepares to finalize controversial revisions to the management plan for 11.5 million acres in the Southern and Northern Sierra.

The proposed revisions would allow more logging in the Sierra's national forests by increasing the size of trees that could be cut, from maximums of 12 or 20 inches in diameter in most areas under the existing plan, up to 30 inches in diameter.

The changes, which Blackwell has said would reduce fire risk, are opposed by environmentalists and most Democrats.

New Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, also supports keeping the ''Sierra Nevada Framework'' as is, according to his environmental action plan.

But the 20 Republicans in California's 53-member congressional delegation, joined by three Democrats, wrote in a letter that, ''Absent changes to this plan, 11.5 million acres of cherished national forests and nearby communities will remain at serious risk to the kinds of environmentally and economically devastating fires that have ravaged our state and the rest of the west with alarming frequency over the last several years.''

The letter was signed by lawmakers led by Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, and Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville.

A legislative aide to Herger, Derek Harley, said the proposed framework revisions go in the right direction, but not far enough. He said that while Herger would not advocate doing away with tree size limits altogether, more flexibility was needed.

''There needs to be the flexibility for managers to go out there and look at those stands and see what needs to be removed effectively, without some kind of a general arbitrary limit on the tree size,'' Harley said.

The existing framework plan was developed and adopted under the Clinton administration. The Bush administration announced its support for the plan last year, but after criticism from the timber industry, ranchers and others announced it would conduct a review. The results were to have been announced this month, but the volume of response led to a delay until late January.

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