SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. forestry officials announced last week that they would significantly expand the amount of logging allowed in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains in what they described as an effort to curb wildfires.
Environmental groups and a California state official attacked the plan as showing disregard for the environment.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service said it would permit logging of 700,000 acres over the next 20 years.
“I personally witnessed the human suffering and catastrophic damage caused by those fires,” Forest Service Regional Forester Jack Blackwell said.
“I am personally convinced that future droughts in the Sierra Nevada, coupled with periods of wind and high temperatures, could lead to the same devastation there,” he said in a statement. “It is my professional responsibility to take decisive action.”
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer, a Democrat, condemned the decision. “Once again, the Bush White House has demonstrated its continued disregard for the environment and willingness to sacrifice natural resources Californians cherish,” he said.
“Under the guise of addressing fire risk, the revised framework will substantially increase commercial logging, endanger wildlife habitats and weaken water quality protections and grazing limitations.”
The Sierra Nevada region spans 400 miles along the eastern edge of California and is home to grizzly bear, mountain sheep and sequoia, pine, and aspen trees.
In December, President Bush signed into law a plan he said would reduce the risk of wildfires in federal forests. Environmental groups called it a giveaway to the timber industry.
Californians were reminded of the dangers of forest fires when blazes in the southern part of the state late last year killed nearly two dozen people and destroyed 3,400 homes.
Forest service spokesman Dave Reider said the plans increase the amount of wood that could be harvested four-fold compared to a 2001 plan. He said loggers would be allowed to cut 330 million board feet in the Sierra Nevada per year, up from 70 to 80 million board feet in the earlier plan.
Builders use about 15,000 board feet to build a three-bedroom home, he said.
“These changes are bad news for those of us who live here,” said John Brissenden, who owns a resort lodge in Hope Valley. “Cutting trees miles away from our homes won’t protect us from wildfire. People want to bring their kids to hike, camp and fish in a peaceful place, not a logging project.”