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Environmental group sues USFS over logging plan

From The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO -- In a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the U.S. Forest
Service, environmental groups claimed a six-year-old federal law aimed
at preventing wildfires has degenerated into a backdoor effort to
eventually increase logging across 340,000 acres of Sierra Nevada
national forests.

Filed in federal court in Sacramento, the suit challenges the Forest
Service's effort to log 6,400 acres over five years in the Plumas
National Forest west of Quincy, where a coalition of loggers and local
conservationists once met to propose what eventually became national
fire-prevention policy.

The Forest Service says the clearing project will reduce the risk of
catastrophic wildfire near the small Sierra mountain town of Meadow
Valley, while providing local logging jobs.

The environmental groups say the plan allows the cutting of bigger, more
fire-resistant trees in an area already cleared of smaller, more
flammable material. They say it also would destroy 4,280 acres of old
trees around 16 California spotted owl nesting sites.

The debate goes to the heart of the controversy over fire prevention
activities across the West, particularly in a pending plan to manage 11
million acres of national forest land the length of the Sierra range.

Forest Service spokesman Matt Mathes said the 6,400 acres are unique,
because the agreement "specifically requires us to promote the economic
health of that area, and part of that is helping the local timber
industry."

The tract of land is called the Quincy Library Group after the local
coalition that developed the original agreement.

"That's a ruse," responded Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, one of
the groups that sued. "There's nothing in the law that requires them to
log the largest 1 percent of the trees remaining in that area." Jobs
could just as well be provided by cutting smaller trees and brush or
providing other services.

"This is supposed to be about reducing the potential for severe fire
near communities," Hanson said. The project, as planned, "will increase
the potential for fire right next to the community."

The suit seeks to force the Forest Service to conduct a full
environmental impact review before it permits logging of large trees.
The suit filed by the Earthjustice law firm also includes the Sierra
Nevada Forest Protection Campaign and the Plumas Forest Project.

Additional logging under the Quincy Library Group pilot project could
include up to 343,500 acres of the Plumas, Lassen and Tahoe national
forests over five years, said Earthjustice researcher Emily Brown. The
environmental groups contend the Forest Service has not studied the
cumulative impact of all the logging.
 
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