5 Nov 2009, 9:23pm
Federal forest policy Saving Forests
by admin

Sierra Nevada Framework Injunction Denied

Today U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England, Jr. (Eastern California District) denied a Renewed Motion for Injunctive Relief that would have set aside the 2004 Sierra Nevada Framework in its entirety and replaced it with its 2001 predecessor.

Instead, Judge England ordered the U.S. Forest Service to prepared a supplemental EIS, to be completed not later than May 1, 2010, to address the NEPA violation previously identified by the Ninth Circuit Court [here]. He also ruled that existing projects already evaluated and approved may continue while the USFS progresses through the supplemental EIS process.

Judge England’s decision is [here].

The Plaintiffs, a coalition of environmental groups led by Sierra Forest Legacy, formerly known as Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign, the Center For Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society, had demanded the Court permanently enjoin implementation of the entire 2004 Framework in any of the eleven forests subject to the Framework. That demand was denied.

Background: In January 2001, the Pacific Southwest Region adopted the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (SNFPA) for managing 11 national forests and 11.5 million acres of national forest land. In November 2001, the Chief of the Forest Service affirmed the decision. In 2003, the Region prepared a draft supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) to document new information. After considering and incorporating public comment on the draft SEIS, a final SEIS was completed. A new Record of Decision (ROD) was signed January 21, 2004. The program is now referred to as the Sierra Nevada Framework.

From the 2004 SEIS website [here]:

The trend is clear. If we do not actively manage our forests to reduce fuels, improve their health and return them to more open, natural conditions, we can expect more catastrophic wildfires and continuing threats to communities, lives, and homes. We can also expect to see more damage to old forests, wildlife habitat, soils and water quality - all those things natural systems provide and we value so highly.

The Plumas National Forest had proposed pilot thinning projects consistent with the 2004 ROD, treatments also called for in the 1998 Herger-Feinstein Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act.

The Plumas NF proposed thinning dense thicket forests overloaded with fuels and crowded trees to create DFPZ’s (Defensible Fuel Profile Zones: areas approximately 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide where fuel loadings are reduced, usually along roads) that could save hundreds of thousands of acres of Sierra forest from catastrophic fire [here].

Those projects may proceed now. In the meantime, though, the Plumas NF has suffered the Moonlight Fire (65,714 acres in 2007), the Wheeler/Antelope Fire (23,420 acres, also in 2007), and the Canyon Complex Fires (37,831 acres in 2008), among others. Fire damages were severe [here], including destruction of California Spotted Owl nesting stands.

The Plumas is only one of the 11 national forests covered under the Sierra Nevada Framework.

The Rich Fire (6,112 acres in 2008) demonstrated the efficacy of DFPZ’s by reducing that fire’s intensity and associated tree mortality [here].

After years of litigious acrimony and acrimonious litigation initiated by “green” groups, and after dozens of catastrophic fires that have turned green forests into blackened moonscapes, some significant restoration forestry may now take place in the Sierra Nevada.

Inch by inch.

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