Forest clearing project moving forward

By Union Democrat staff September 22, 2009 07:06 am

With denial of appeals filed by two Sacramento-area environmental groups, a much-needed, 5,600-acre clearing project on the Stanislaus National Forest can begin.

The Phase II Fuel Reduction, Forest Health and Road Management Project calls for logging, shredding and pile burning on portions of the Wrights, Hull and Rush Creek drainage, southeast of Highway 108 between Cold Springs and Long Barn. Much of the Mi-Wok Ranger District project is in the Wildland Urban Interface, where fire can be a significant threat to nearby homes and businesses.

Not only that, but the project calls for commercial logging on up to 2,192 acres. This could provide a needed shot in the arm for the timber industry, which with the closure of Sierra Pacific Industries’ Standard Mill has been hit particularly hard by the 2009 recession.

Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore and his staff should be commended for making the right decision on the appeals, which contended that the logging could impact habitat for sensitive species, including the spotted owl and the fisher.

Also deserving thanks are two more project supporters that don’t often find themselves on the same side of the political fence: The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and the Twain Harte-based Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.

CSERC, said Executive Director John Buckley, “strongly disagreed” with appeals filed by the John Muir Project and Sierra Forest Legacy. While the appeals were focused on the spotted owl and a few other species, Buckley said the Phase II project “will actually benefit the majority of wildlife species in the area.”

Last week, the Board of Supervisors sent CSERC a thank-you letter for its help on the project. Kind of.

The letter pointed out that CSERC, despite its support for the clearing project, is a member of Sierra Forest Legacy — an umbrella group that was one of the unsuccessful appellants. The connection, remarked Supervisors Dick Pland and John Gray, made CSERC look “anti-logging.” 

Supervisor Liz Bass voted against the qualifying language, saying it made the letter sound “insincere.”

Buckley is hardly losing sleep over it.

"Neither CSERC nor any other organization that works to protect the environment can worry about whether or not we please Tuolumne County’s supervisors,” he wrote in a letter to The Union Democrat, adding that the board “has never been balanced or neutral on conservation matters.”

The county board, indeed, is charged with dealing with a range of issues that can go beyond or at times conflict with environmental priorities espoused by CSERC and other groups. That supervisors have often based decisions on economic rather than environmental grounds is to be expected.

Both CSERC and the pro-logging Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and the Environment (TuCARE) play an important advisory and advocacy role in our community. Both groups provide well-researched reports, analysis and data on environmental issues to the Board of Supervisors and other government entities. They make their best case for their respective positions.

The Board of Supervisors, CSERC and TuCARE have found common ground on the Stanislaus National Forest’s well-planned Phase II project. Perhaps, in the months ahead, there can be similar agreement on other constructive projects like this one.