Small timber sales may skip reviews

January 07, 2003 12:00 am

By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

Striving to reduce "analysis paralysis," U.S. Forest Service officials announced plans to eliminate public review and environmental research on small logging projects they deem environmentally safe.

Friday's proposals fit with the Bush administration's Healthy Forest Initiative, announced in December, which officials said will streamline administrative paperwork required before fire-fuel-reduction projects can occur in national forests.

"This is another sign of some common sense being used in some new Forest Service policy," said Mike Albrecht, president of Sierra Resource Management in Sonora.

Sierra Resource Management is a logging company that often harvests Stanislaus National Forest's smaller trees, which could otherwise fuel catastrophic flames.

The Healthy Forest Initiative came after summer 2002, when 7.1 million acres went up in flames, more than twice the average.

Severe drought conditions in the West helped most of those fires burn rapidly through trees and brush. But the wood, debris and crowded forests left after a century of fire suppression also fueled the flames.

Wildfires historically burned through western forests every 20 to 25 years, cleaning brush and kindling from the woodland floors. Because those fires have not been allowed to burn, fire fuel has accumulated to about five times the normal amount.

Forest officials said they hope the new proposals will speed projects off office desks and onto the ground, clearing more trees and reducing the number of devastating fires.

"It's frustrating to do an enormous amount of paperwork for something we know is not going to be an environmentally harmful project," said Matt Mathes, spokesman for the Forest Service's regional office in Vallejo.

The new rules would apply to timber harvests of live trees on fewer than 50 acres, dead and dying trees on fewer than 250 acres, and any trees infested with disease or insects on fewer than 250 acres, according to a statement from Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C.