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State sues over Sierra forest plan

  In early February, the state of California sued the U.S. Forest Service for approving a new management plan that more than triples logging in national forests in the Sierra Nevada.

In January 2004, the Forest Service rolled out a major revision of the 2001 Sierra Framework, a comprehensive plan for 11 national forests that was approved during the final days of the Clinton administration (HCN, 2/12/01: A New Plan Frames the Sierra Nevada). The original 2001 Sierra Framework took more than a decade to develop and incorporated the opinions and research of hundreds of scientists, politicians, citizens and industry leaders.

"It was a painstaking and painful process of consensus building," says Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who filed the suit. "And then the Bush administration basically junked it."

Lockyer’s lawsuit, which follows a yearlong Forest Service administrative review of the revised plan, charges the agency with violations of the National Environmental Policy Act. The most contentious difference between the 2001 and 2004 plans is that the former emphasizes burning with prescribed fires to restore ecosystems, whereas the new plan permits logging in old-growth forest areas and the cutting of trees up to 30 inches in diameter.

Matt Mathes, a Forest Service spokesman, says that the 2001 framework could not be implemented effectively because it contained many overlapping and conflicting rules, and that in practice it did not reduce fire danger.

Additionally, revenue from the sale of larger-diameter trees could defray agency, and therefore taxpayer, costs.