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Plan relies heavily on fire
Timber removal limited around Sequoias
Sequoia Forest Supervisor Kevin Elliot released the long-awaited Giant Sequoia National Monument plan Tuesday, saying "I think it hits the mark in terms of what the proclamation was asking us to do."
The plan, which has been in the works for nearly a decade, was unveiled during a hastily called press conference at the Sequoia Forest headquarters in town.
The final decision aims to direct the management and restoration of the Giant Sequoia Monument. The plan is focused on complying with the presidential proclamation from President Bill Clinton which created the monument in 2000, and is intended to respond to issues of recreation and public use, as well as fire and fuel management and community protection.
Along with this alternative, a section referred to as the “Moses Wilderness recommendation” has also been chosen.
The plan, Elliot explained, is a general guide which is intended to direct specific projects in the future. The current plan does not approve any particular project at a specific location; instead, it lists a number of protocols which will help guide sites which require restoration or management in the future. The protocols are meant to protect the “objects of interest” defined in the 2000 proclamation, including specifically named giant sequoias, the 33 identified sequoia groves and surrounding ecosystem associated with the trees; other native plants and animal species which have been listed as threatened, endangered or sensitive; culturally significant pre- and historical sites; and scientifically important sites for studying geological and ecological changes.
Elliot explained that the management plan lists “desired conditions,” which are ultimate goals for certain objects, such as vegetation, or the conditions in which those objects exist, such as air and water resources and quality. This makes up the first part of the written document.
The next section, called the “strategy,” discusses the protocols which define what can be done to restore the monument from its current state to the desired state.
“Management is the gap between the existing condition and the desired condition,” Elliot said.
The way the forest will be managed, at this point, is mostly by utilizing fire, Elliot said. As the original proclamation called for an effort to restore the forest’s “resilience” to fire, the plan calls for both fire and “mechanical treatments” to be used to reduce “fuels,” which would be heavy undergrowth that, if lit, might lead to a catastrophic fire.
The “mechanical treatments”, or logging, outlined in the plan, does not allow for sequoias over 12 inches in diameter to be cut. Other tree varieties cannot be cut if they are over 20 inches in diameter. One thing Elliot made clear during the press conference was that even if a sequoia was cut down, the wood would not be sold. The plan outlines the basis on which sequoias and other trees may be cut, and follows the guideline in the proclamation that no tree shall be removed from the monument unless it is “clear needed for ecological restoration and maintenance or public safety.”
As the plan is a general plan, the manner in which particular projects will be handled, Elliot said, will be decided on a project-by-project basis, and that each will have to be approved under the National Environmental Policy Act.
As far as travel, the use of motorized vehicles will be restricted to roads designated for that purpose, including over-snow vehicles. Bicycles will be limited to designated roads and trails as well. Foot and horse traffic may be restricted to prevent “resource damage.”
“We were really pleased to see that they were focusing on ecological restoration,” said Sarah Matsumoto, a spokesperson for the Sierra Club. The club handed over 350,000 signatures to the Forest Service at the beginning of August to petition for the sort of ecological standards which have appeared in the Management Plan: a focus on restoration, clear standards for the removal of trees, and an emphasis on restoring fire as a natural means of maintaining the forest.
“In previous years, they never actually said that fire is going to be the default treatment, which is something we have been asking for as well,” she said.
According to the explanation of the purpose of the plan, it will give “strategic direction at the board program level for managing the Monument and its resources over the next 10 to 15 years.” The current plan replaces all other existing plans, including the 1988 Sequoia National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. According to the Record of Decision, which was written by Randy Moore, the Pacific Southwest Region Regional Forester, he chose the plan because it is the “environmentally preferred alternative” in that “strikes a balance between protecting, caring for, and maintaining the objects of interest; restoring and maintaining ecosystems; and providing for visitor enjoyment of the Monument.”
Moore says that the plan is based on years of collaboration between the Forest Service, members of the science community, and the general public who were given a number of chances to lend their voices to the planning process. Employees of the Forest Service also met with Tule River Reservation representatives to obtain their input.
According to the Associated Press, the first plan, put forward under President George W. Bush’s administration, was overturned by a federal judge, who rejected it based on the fact that it seemed weighted toward timber interests by planning for heavy logging.
According to Elliot, however, the judge found fault with the previous plan, which had been vaguely outlined in a section of a draft environmental impact report, because it was “incomprehensible,” in this form. The agency was given the task to create a separate management plan. In developing the plan, Elliot said, the agency sought public input to define those issues that were most “significant” to the public, as well as scientific and research input to determine what the protocols should be.
Elliot said that the current documents, the final Environmental Impact Statement, the Monument Plan and the Record of Decision, will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, along with a legal notice, which will be published in The Recorder and the Sacramento Bee on Friday. After this step has been taken, the public will have 90 days to appeal the document by writing the Chief of the Forest Service in Washington, DC. Those who make an appeal must provide an adequate argument and a sufficient amount of narrative evidence before the plan can be changed or reversed.
The documents can also be downloaded from www.fs.fed.us/r5/sequoia/gsnm_planning.html.
Those interested may also obtain a copies on a CD by contacting Annette Fredette at the SNFS office, 784-1500, ext. 1138.