As a relentless summer sun bakes the ponderosa pine forests surrounding Flagstaff, Ariz., an experimental logging project meant to restore forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire around the city has hit a snag.
18, an administrative appeal filed with the Forest Service by a
coalition of seven environmental groups halted a 10,000-acre
logging project for at least six weeks. The agency will now
re-evaluate the project and make changes if it finds any merits to
the appeal. The proposed project, which has strong support from
city officials, would cut small trees and set low-intensity fires
in an effort to return forests to more open pre-Anglo settlement
conditions (HCN, 3/1/99).
executive director of the Santa Fe-based Forest Guardians, the
group leading the coalition of project opponents, calls the Forest
Service's analysis of the plan "sloppy." He says no scientific
evidence exists to back up the Forest Service's claim that
commercial logging is needed to reduce the risk of fire, and he
urges the agency to do a full-blown environmental impact statement
on the project.
The plan was initiated in 1996,
after a series of large-scale wildfires threatened the city. The
Grand Canyon Trust and a group of forestry researchers from
Northern Arizona University teamed up with the Coconino National
Forest and Flagstaff city officials to form the Grand Canyon
Forests Partnership. Its goal was to reduce the threat of
catastrophic fire by using science-based restoration methods; the
partnership planned to thin up to 100,000 acres of forest around
Flagstaff over the next 10 years.
arguments have some support among environmental groups involved in
the project. "The (environmental assessment) did not give adequate
evaluation of the cumulative impacts. It's fraught with problems,"
says Martos Hoffman, executive director of the Flagstaff-based
Southwest Forest Alliance, a group that has participated in the
partnership planning process.
The day after the
appeal was filed, the partnership fired off a six-page press
release slamming the Guardians for "boilerplate criticisms." In
person, the partnership's supporters are no less critical of the
appeal. Brad Ack, a founding member of the partnership and director
of programs for the Grand Canyon Trust, criticizes Forest Guardians
for not participating in the project's planning.
"We traveled to Santa Fe twice within the last
six months to get their input. I think they're trying to push their
zero-cut agenda," says Ack. He adds that the project was careful
not to be "just another way to cut trees for profit."
Because the proposed project is an experiment in
restoration forestry, says Ack, there is no way to do an
environmental impact statement. "We don't know what the whole
project is going to be. We just don't know what each step is going
to be." He adds that, in this case, environmental assessments
provide more accountability because an assessment is prepared for
each new phase of the project.
If the agency
rejects the appeal, the Guardians' coalition may file a lawsuit,
and the project could be stalled again. While some say the debate
will only improve the project, others aren't sure there's time for
"The longer we wait, the closer we'll get
to the fire," says John Gerritsma, the Forest Service's liaison to
the partnership. "The one we don't know about."
* Tim Westby, HCN intern
can contact ...
* John Gerritsma, Coconino
National Forest, 520/527-3600;
* Brad Ack, Grand
Canyon Forest Partnership, 520/774-7488;
Talberth, Forest Guardians, 505/988-9126.