Ranchers, Loggers Express Concerns About Forest Plans

Taylor HillmanEnvironment

Concerns over tree health and possible new restrictions on grazing and logging surfaced during the final public meeting on plans to reshape management of the Inyo, Sequoia and Sierra national forests.

A day after the final meeting, the California Farm Bureau Federation filed a request with the U.S. Forest Service to extend the deadline for submitting comments on the plans. A 90-day comment period is scheduled to end Aug. 25.

At the public meeting, held in Clovis last week, participants expressed opinions on topics that ranged from recreation to sustainability and watershed viability.

The meeting drew participants from well beyond the Sierra National Forest region where it was conducted, because of their concern that management updates for that region and for the Sequoia and Inyo forests could become a template for national forests statewide.

Among them was Eloise Fischer, who has held grazing allotments in the Stanislaus National Forest for nearly 50 years. She said the updates “could reduce the number (of animals) you could graze; they could shorten the 90-day grazing period, making it uneconomical.” She said another concern is reductions in grazing because of endangered-species restrictions.

Bart Topping, whose cattle graze on Sierra National Forest land, described the challenges of moving cattle out of a meadow in the Bass Lake District due to restrictions related to the Yosemite toad.

Participants were encouraged to engage in what was termed “informal discussion” with staff members. Those at the meeting were able to visit three “information stations” that centered on topics that included recreation, fire risk and restoration, and wildlife and vegetation information.

CFBF Second Vice President Tony Toso, who attended the Clovis meeting, said he considered it unfortunate there was not a discussion group specifically focused on topics such as grazing and logging.

Toso is a partner in a cow-calf operation in Hornitos, but does not graze his cattle in the national forest. He said thinning of trees in the forests is vital.

“Thinning the forests not only helps reduce fire hazards, but preserves water and allows more grass to grow. It doesn’t get shaded out and offers more feed to the cattle, so it helps the meadows by providing cattle with more feed sources,” Toso said.

At least two members of county boards of supervisors attended the Clovis meeting.

They included Allen Ishida, a Tulare County supervisor, who talked of the importance of the forest as a watershed: “Sixty percent of our water comes from there. What will they do if the forest burns? Let it go to chaparral?”

He pointed out that dense forests take more water, and he favors introducing sheep and goats in forestland to remove dense vegetation.

Randy Hanvelt, a member of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors, noted it could take two years to put plans in place that would guide management of the forests for another 15 years. He said plans need to be more forward-looking and should take into account all the damaged trees.

“This is being driven by scheduling, and we need to get it right,” said Hanvelt, who represents a county in which 75 percent of the land is in a national forest.

Shaun Crook, president of the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, attended an earlier meeting in Clovis, expressing his concerns about a rule that trees larger than 30 inches cannot be felled.

“It makes no sense,” said Crook, who is a logging contractor and real estate broker. “They’re neglecting current on-the-ground conditions.”

Neil McDougald, a University of California natural resources farm advisor emeritus, said he believes livestock grazing and forest thinning have an important role in maintaining forest health and avoiding fires.

“It’s not just the dying trees; they need to manage the live trees,” he said. “It’s out of balance.”

The multiple-use mandate for national forests includes promoting rural economic development. Some speakers at last week’s meeting described the closures through the years of sawmills in the region, including ones in Dinuba, North Fork, Auberry and Madera. Meanwhile, the Sierra Forest Products mill in Terra Bella has cut back from a double shift to a single shift.

The California Farm Bureau is tracking the plan-revision process because its members hold permits to graze livestock and harvest timber, among other uses of the forest. CFBF has taken the position that the draft plans do not adequately address the severe tree mortality California is experiencing.

It also says the draft environmental impact statement fails to discuss California’s declining biomass power plant industry. Without these power plants, it says, wood waste from wildfires, insects and disease will have to be piled and burned.

In a letter requesting the time extension for comments on the forest plans, CFBF Associate Counsel Jack Rice said “additional time is important to allowing those in rural communities affected by the new plans sufficient time to develop more meaningful comments.”

CFBF Federal Policy consultant Erin Huston said people who work in forestry, livestock production and rural recreation are busiest during the summer.

“People who will be directly affected by these documents need time to review them thoroughly,” Huston said. “Because decisions about these three forests could set precedents for the whole state, it’s important to take the time to be sure their voices are heard.”

The CFBF letter said the main reason to provide additional time is the “sheer volume of the material to be reviewed. The (draft environmental impact statement) and three draft forest plans comprise approximately 2,000 pages, with supporting documents made available in late May adding thousands more pages.”

People who attended the Clovis meeting could take home with them documents on the proposed revisions that weighed about 9 pounds.

In a telephone interview, Sean Curtis, a director of the Modoc County Farm Bureau, said it has been a challenge for those who graze livestock to wade through the massive paperwork “to find one paragraph that could turn things upside down.”

Comments on the plan may be submitted online at http://tinyurl.com/r5comment, by postal mail to Planning Team Leader, Forest Plan Revision, 1323 Club Drive, Vallejo, CA 94592 or by email to r5planrevison@fs.fed.us.

Dennis Pollock is a reporter in Fresno. He may be contacted at agcompollock@yahoo.com. Permission for use is granted by the California Farm Bureau Federation.