Less grazing allowed in forest

March 31, 2003 11:00 pm

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

While loggers will benefit from the recent U.S. Forest Service decision to cut twice as much wood from Sierra Nevada national forests, the number of cows permitted on the forests will drop and could hurt some ranching operations.

In a decision that received much less attention, the same officials calling for much more logging are keeping regulations that could allow 20 percent fewer cattle to graze in national forest mountain ranges over the next 10 years.

Regional Forester Jack Blackwell in Vallejo made that call after spending more than a year considering changes to the Sierra Nevada Framework .

The Framework was passed in January 2001 during the Clinton Administration's final days. A management plan for 11 national forests across the Sierra Nevada, it emphasized environmental conservation and reduced logging and grazing along the mountain range. The Forest Service spent 10 years and about $20 million developing the plan.

Then, 11 months after its release, the Bush Administration directed Blackwell to review it. He chartered a Forest Service team to evaluate the Framework and look for ways to reduce fire risk and harmful effects the new environmental measures could have on rural economies.

On March 18, Blackwell announced he would allow loggers to reduce fire fuels by cutting about 450 million board feet of timber a year from the Sierra's national forests — more than twice the roughly 190 million board feet allowed under the Clinton plan. He also said he would give local Forest Service officials flexibility to tailor some grazing rules to their landscape.

But the bottom line, said Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes, is that fewer cows will chomp National Forest grass in the future.

The Framework's authors "made an estimate that it would drop 20 percent. Review team recommendations didn't make any change in that estimate," Mathes said. He added later, "It's a difficult balancing act between trying to find a way to lessen the impact on the grazing permittees while still protecting wildlife."