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Know the West

A myopic framework

  Dear HCN,

The unstinting praise for the Sierra Nevada Framework in your last issue is praise for a remarkably one-dimensional and frankly unsound plan.

The Sierra Nevada Framework - like virtually every other current national forest planning effort, from the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project to the Quincy Library Group - has a myopic focus on logging and fire, and fails to take an ecologically sound look at protecting and restoring damaged ecosystems in their integrated terrestrial and aquatic complexity. The Framework actually continues the failed paradigm of trying to manage forests chiefly for trees.

It is not widely understood that, in the Sierra Nevada, forests are in vastly better shape than the streams and other more vulnerable parts of the ecosystem. In fact, it is the streams (and the critters that depend on them) that are, according to the independent scientific analysis in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, "the most altered and imperiled habitats" ... in the Sierra. The regional pattern of species at risk, including amphibians and riparian nesting birds, points to the depth of degradation, not of the forests but of the aquatic and riparian systems.

Species like the Yosemite toad will suffer under the Framework's focus on fire and fuels, and its failure to address grazing as a major issue. Anybody who has seen the toad in its native habitat knows that it makes no sense to let cattle graze in such fragile meadow systems, as the Framework does. One reviewing scientist went so far as to state: "While the Forest Service clearly views that forest trees have other values to society besides utilitarian ones ... there is not a single provision in the Sierra Framework EIS that would similarly provide for conservation of meadow and riparian vegetation. Each blade of grass is viewed solely for its consumptive value."

An ecologically sound restoration plan for the Sierra Nevada ecosystem - rather than one aimed at only trees - would include massive retirements of grazing, dams and diversions, and a huge program of road deconstruction, none of which the Framework requires. Such a restoration program would do much more to begin recovery of the ecosystem than any combination of thinning and burning, which, by the way, require keeping open an excessive road system that is one of the prime sources of continuing degradation.

As elsewhere, the obsession with fires in the Sierra overstates their importance. Fires, even so-called catastrophic fires, are much less a threat to the ecosystem than the chronic and continuing damage from cows, roads, dams and diversions.

The article could be understood to suggest that only Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity filed legal appeals to the Framework. For the record, the Sequoia Forest Alliance, Tule River Conservancy, Kerncrest Audubon Society, Forest Conservation Council, John Muir Project, National Forest Protection Alliance and concerned individuals also appealed the plan.

But you are correct in observing that Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity did appeal the Framework EIS. This reflects our ecological perspectives, which take us beyond concern only with fires and logging. We make careful policy choices based on ecologically informed consideration of scientific information and expert advice. All too often the agencies do not. You may have noticed that we frequently prevail in the courts. This is the main reason why we do.

David Bayles, Conservation Director,
Pacific Rivers Council

Kieran Suckling, Executive Director,
Center for Biological Diversity