Forest Plan has plenty of appeal(s)

  • APPEALING FOR ACCESS: Richard Giotto, left, and members of his four-wheel-drive club

    photo courtesy Giotto
 

VALLEJO, Calif. - If you didn't know better, you'd think the Sierra Nevada Framework did something terrible to burglar-alarm companies. The staff at Giotto's Alarm Tech in Tulare, Calif., accounts for 10 appeals - more than the Forest Service received from all the timber companies combined.

"We've got a real activist office here," says the president of the company, Richard Giotto. He's also a member of the Lock and Low 4 Wheel Drive Club of Visalia, Calif. "All I do is photocopy the information and then my employees send in the letters," he says.

Giotto says his employees and his four-wheel-drive club all feel slighted by the Framework. "We think we've done our part," he says, citing volunteer trail maintenance, erosion control and education work on the Sierra National Forest. "But the Framework paints a dim picture of the future as far as access goes."

All told, the Forest Service received 280 appeals. Forty-six were late or otherwise disqualified and landed in the trash. The other 234 reside in six four-inch-thick binders in the Ecosystem Management Department here at Region Five headquarters.

"This is probably one of the most heavily appealed Forest Service decisions ever," says Region 5 media affairs officer Matt Mathes. What's remarkable, he says, is that only three of the appeals come from environmental groups. "That's the complete opposite of what it used to be," he says.

One of the environmental appeals, he notes, asks the Forest Service to bring in goats to clear brush. About half the appeals come from cabin owners, snowmobilers, campers and other recreationalists who say that the Framework values animals over people. Two-thirds of those are terse, legalistic form letters; the rest are homespun, with stories to tell.

One third-generation cabin owner says she's dismayed to find herself within the 700-acre Protected Activity Center of a Pacific fisher, a rarely seen animal. For 60 years, her family has opened its cabin on Memorial Day, and the fisher has done fine. So why, she writes, does the Framework say they now can't open the cabin until June 30?

Ranchers and their associations sent in two dozen appeals, most related to restrictions meant to protect the habitat of the willow flycatcher. The ranchers fear that the safeguards are likely to kick the cows off their grazing allotments.

Sierra towns, counties and chambers of commerce come next, with 10 appeals. All charge that the Framework's economic and recreational analyses are biased and incomplete.

You might guess that the downhill ski industry and hydroelectric power plant operators would have been happy that the Framework mostly ignores them. But they, too, have appealed, in search of guarantees that forest management won't someday change, and target them.

The Quincy-based California Women in Timber charges that the EIS is sexist and racist because it ignores the impacts Sierra forest management has on women and minorities.

Then there are a dozen long appeals from coalitions. They take the Record of Decision and the EIS to task on grazing, timber production, recreational access, watershed protection, wildfire protection and even species protection. They range from the vitriolic Quincy Library Group's protest to the more measured but equally accusatory 1,000-page Sierra Nevada Resources Coalition appeal.

A common thread is confusion over the agency's conclusion. The appeals are full of graphs from the EIS showing that Regional Forester Brad Powell's chosen alternative (Modified Eight) is not the best way to reach the Framework's desired habitat and fire and riparian-area protection.

Framework team member Klaus Barber has an explanation: "To the Forest Service, the greatest threat to habitat is wildfire, but to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the greatest threat is mechanical treatment."

That meant Powell's decision had to chart a middle course that minimized logging while still reducing the threat of wildfire.

"All those appellants never saw that compromise process," Barber continues. "And it's not in the EIS, so it's no wonder they don't think it makes sense."

After immersing yourself in the two-foot-high stack of appeals, it is difficult to imagine that anybody likes the Framework. But it has supporters, and they will get an at-bat.

The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Nevada Protection Campaign, among others, have signed up to intervene on behalf of Powell's decision. They have submitted or will submit appeal rebuttals to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.

After the Framework's 90-day appeals window closed April 17, the Forest Service gained 160 days to respond to each point in every appeal. It is up to Bosworth to decide whether to uphold the Framework, send it back to Region 5 for revisions or scuttle it. His decision is then supposed to be reviewed by Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman. But she has recused herself because she recently represented the Sierra Nevada Access, Multiple-Use and Stewardship Coalition, which submitted a 91-page appeal. That means Acting Deputy Undersecretary Dave Tenny will have the final say on Oct. 1.

"And then we're in lawsuit territory," says Mathes.


YOU CAN CONTACT ...

    • Matt Mathes, USFS Region 5 Media Affairs Officer, 707/562-9004;
    • Steve Clauson, Sierra Nevada Framework EIS team leader, USFS Region 5, 916/492-7553;
    • Berni Bahro, Fire Specialist, USFS Region 5, 916/498-5376;
    • Brent Skaggs, Sequoia National Forest, 559/539-2607, ext. 222;
    • Barbara Timberlake, USFS Headquarters Appeals Coordinator, 202/205-1620;
    • Craig Thomas, Sierra Nevada Protection Campaign, 530/622-8718;
    • Michael Jackson, Quincy Library Group, 530/283-1007;
    • Richard Giotto, Giotto's Alarm Tech, 559/688-7618;
    • Laurel Ames, Sierra Nevada Alliance, 530/542-4546;
    • Jonathan Kusel, Forest Community Research, 530/284-1022;
    • Phil Aune, California Forestry Association, 916/444-6592; or,
    • See the Framework Web site, www.r5.fs.fed.us/sncf.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Jim Downing

High Country News Classifieds