SACRAMENTO — A federal judge is threatening to block the cutting of trees in three Northern California national forests as part of a fire prevention program, unless the U.S. Forest Service submits a better plan addressing regrowth and potential harmful effects.
The agency’s current impact statement fails to properly account for maintaining 320,000 acres of fire breaks in the Sierra Nevada forests and the possible use of herbicides that could harm the environment, ruled U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton.
He ordered the Forest Service to offer a revised environmental impact statement for public comment within four months, or stop the project.
“The Forest Service is radically altering vegetation on 320,000 acres of forest without knowing what the ultimate result is going to be,” said Patty Clary, director of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.
CATS sued the Forest Service for not exploring how it would control the regrowth of brush and grasses in the fire breaks.
The plan was a product of controversial 1998 federal legislation sought by an unusual coalition of loggers, environmentalists and others that became known as the Quincy Library Group for their meeting place.
The Quincy Act requires construction of a network of fire lines by removing trees and shrubs in strips a quarter- to half-mile wide and several miles long on 40,000 to 60,000 acres each year for five years. The network will ultimately cover one-quarter of the land in the Plumas and Lassen national forests and the Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest.
Clary said maintaining those breaks could involve the use of herbicides, but the consequences of such use were not explored. Forest Service attorneys argued no maintenance would be needed for 10 years, beyond the life of the project, but CATS disagrees, saying grass and other brush could grow back within two to five years.
Karlton ruled Tuesday that the Forest Service provided no evidence to back its assumption or dispute concerns presented by a CATS expert.