Union Democrat staff

The U.S. Forest Service has given preliminary approval to a plan allowing logging in much of the area burned in last year's Rim Fire.

The Forest Service's Rim Fire Recovery Proposed Record of Decision and an accompanying environmental impact report were posted to a Stanislaus National Forest's website this afternoon (http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=43033.)

Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Susan Skalski is expected to sign the plan when it's finalized between now and Sept. 5.

The plan, according to Skalski and others, balances the desires to create economic value from the burn area, ready the forest for regrowth and remove hazards to the public which forced much of the forest to be closed during and after the fire. Even today, large swaths of the Groveland and Mi-Wok Ranger districts remain closed to the public due to hazards like falling trees and snags.

Among the actions called for in the proposed plan:

• Salvaging dead and heavily damaged trees from 15,377 acres in the burn area for fuels reduction. The report notes that could yield 210 million board-feet of timber.

• Removing hazardous trees from about 17,706 acres of land adjacent to 325 miles of Forest Service roads.

• Building 6 miles of new temporary roads, reconstructing 315 miles of damaged road and maintaining an additional 209 miles of road in the forest.

• Rehabilitating 4,087 acres of deer winter-range land deemed "critical."

Salvage logging - the most-watched aspect of the highly anticipated decision - is expected to occur over two seasons and could begin as early as this fall.

The roadside tree removal, biohazard removal would take place over about five years.

Many groups have been awaiting the publication of Wednesday's Record of Decision - both environmental and logging industry groups.

Locally, both interests have been in accord on the dueling need to quickly retrieve burned trees for lumber before they rot, while also reducing the volumes of flammable materials like dead trees and vegetation in the forest. A surplus of the latter - called "fuels" - is widely blamed for the fire's rapid and wide growth.

Between the time the fire started Aug.,17, 2013 and the time it was contained two months later, it scorched some 400-square miles of hilltops and river canyons between Groveland, Yosemite National Park and high sierra wilderness areas to the east. The burn area was mostly confined to the Stanislaus National Forest and, to a lesser extent, Yosemite National Park, but private property and several buildings were also scorched.