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For Immediate Release, May 15, 2008

Contact: Craig Thomas, Sierra Forest Legacy, (916) 708-9409 (cell)
Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (510) 910-062
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, ( 218) 525-3884
Julie Dixon, Resource Media (916) 446-1058 

Ninth Circuit Rules to Protect Sierra Forests, Faults Forest Service Plan
Ruling Holds That Forest Service Likely Violated Federal Law
With 2004 Logging Plan

SAN FRANCISCO— In a reversal of the Bush administration’s attempt to accelerate logging for profit in the Sierra Nevada’s national forests, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled May 14th that the U.S. Forest Service likely violated long-standing federal environmental laws when revising the Sierra Nevada Framework, a management plan for all 11 national forests in eastern California. The revised plan, challenged by conservation organizations Sierra Forest Legacy, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and others, calls for a more than fivefold increase in the amount of logging across the Sierra range, targets large fire-resistant trees to pay for the logging, and shifts fire prevention resources away from communities.

The original challenge, filed in the U. S. District Court, Eastern District of California, asserted that the 2004 revisions failed to disclose key scientific data regarding impacts on old-growth forests, water, and wildlife. In addition, critics say that the new plan decreases the level of fire safety and protection to homes and communities, focusing instead on increased logging of large, fire-resistant trees in the backcountry.

"Logging large trees away from populated areas does not address the real fire risk presented by more flammable understory growth near the forest floor," said Dr. Phil Rundel, distinguished professor of biology at the University of California at Los Angeles. “Fire scientists widely agree that logging can actually increase wildfire threats by eliminating large, fire-resistant trees and encouraging understory thickets that can ignite and spread wildfire into residential areas.”
The Forest Service approved the original Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment in January 2001 after more than a decade of scientific study and public outreach, to direct the management of 11.5 million acres of California's national forest lands. Less than a year after the original plan was adopted, the Bush administration announced that it would revise the plan to increase the amount of logging and limit protections for forests, water and wildlife throughout the Sierra.

According to Jim Lyons, former undersecretary for natural resources and environment and key architect of the original Framework: “The 2001 Framework was a scientifically-based and balanced plan for the Sierra that replaced a strategy that ignored basic ecosystem management principles. Unfortunately, it was never given a chance to work.”

“The Ninth Circuit understood that the old-growth logging at issue here may turn a profit, but will not make the Sierra any safer if there’s a fire,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “We desperately need the Forest Service to turn its attention away from the big trees and back to Sierra communities.”

According to Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity, “In order to protect our remaining old-growth forests and the wildlife  that depend on these forests, the Forest Service must develop balanced alternatives to logging large, fire-resistant trees.”

Craig Thomas, director of Sierra Forest Legacy, said, “We have been working hard to advance fuels reduction projects consistent with the 2001 Framework, which provides protection to rural communities, old-growth forests, wildlife and our rivers and streams.” Thomas, a Sierra resident, added: “The court has made it clear that we don’t have to choose between community safety and environmental protection. We can have both.”

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