Stanislaus unruffled by Bush plan

December 03, 2002 11:00 pm

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

Despite the nationwide drama surrounding last week's Bush Administration announcement to streamline environmental reviews on national forests, people with high stakes in Stanislaus National Forest activities have taken a calmer, wait-and-see attitude.

Impacts on the Stanislaus probably won't even be seen until 2009 or 2010, said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Forest Service's regional office in Vallejo.

That is because the proposed regulations would reduce the number of scientific and environmental reviews required when each forest prepares its 15-year master plan. The plan, much like a zoning process, names where in the forest logging, mining and other development can occur.

But Stanislaus officials won't begin drawing a new plan until 2007. A final document should be available two to three years later, Mathes said.

And before this proposal takes effect, it must undergo a 90-day public comment period, Mathes said.

Plus, before 2007, a different presidential administration might take office — one with alternate visions for public land. That administration could change regulations again.

This proposal comes almost three years after the Clinton Administration passed rules that name ecosystem health as top priority in national forest management.

Fortunate forest

John Buckley, executive director of Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, said that while the Bush proposal might streamline administrative paperwork, it could do so at the cost of viable, middle-ground alternatives for forest plans.

"I am not expecting that there's going to be any sudden shift in what is produced in terms of outputs here on the Stanislaus," Buckley said. "The challenge will be for those communities that really don't have a strong conservation monitoring organization."

Buckley said the Stanislaus is fortunate because its surrounding communities hold a diverse blend of interests — industry, recreation and conservation groups — that are willing to come to the table and hammer out compromises.