5 May 2010, 10:56pm
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Sierra program aims to nurture forest

Plan targets management, jobs and environment.

By Marc Benjamin, The Fresno Bee, May 02, 2010 [here]

A state agency overseeing the 22-county Sierra region is preparing an ambitious plan to add jobs in mountain communities, keep forests healthy, protect water supplies and reduce fire danger.

And, to make sure the Sustainable Sierra Nevada Initiative has wide support, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy is working with timber, environmental, biomass and government officials to develop it.

Most agree that forests need thinning to reduce the threat of catastrophic fire, and those forest operations could create new job opportunities.

But balancing forest management with environmental concerns has been a tricky proposition.

The initiative “is an opportunity to move things forward in a different way,” said Jim Branham, executive officer for the Auburn-based conservancy, a state agency charged with promoting the Sierra’s environment and economy.

Sustainable Sierra Nevada Initiative

The initiative will set principles to follow in the coming years, providing the framework for specific policies, officials said.

Almost everyone agrees on the types of principles needed in the initiative, much of which has to do with clearing brush and tree fuels that can spark large fires, said Craig Thomas, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy, an environmental group based in Sacramento that is one of six environmental organizations supporting the proposal.

But there is not full buy-in by all sides yet on all the initiative’s proposals.

Brian Nowicki, California climate policy director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said some of the initiative’s principles are too vague. …

Branham said he doesn’t expect unanimous support for the plan.

“Some environmentalists think we shouldn’t do thinning and some on the other side will think we are not aggressive enough,” he said.

In addition to fire management, the initiative addresses the need to develop jobs for residents in the economically struggling Sierra.

Steve Wilensky, a Calaveras County supervisor, said his district once had 22 lumber mills, but the last closed 16 years ago.

Now, more than 25% of the work force is unemployed and 86% of children are eligible for at least partially paid school lunches.

But there is hope: Wilensky helped write a jobs-creation program that began in 2005 with the aim of putting people to work thinning forests, moving wood chips to a biomass plant and burning the wood to create electricity. He also sees a market for wood pellets, posts and poles, pressed logs and craftsman woodworking products.

Wilensky’s program is a model for some of the initiative’s proposals. … [more]



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