Forest plans affect grazing, logging, water


Issue Date: October 16, 2019
By Christine Souza
Commenting on draft management plans for national forests in the state, the California Farm Bureau Federation and others emphasize the need to address forests’ impact on water quality and quantity. For example, the 2014 King Fire in the Eldorado National Forest led to release of about 330,000 tons of sediment into the Rubicon River, above, requiring Placer County to spend millions of dollars on dredging work.
Photo/Andy Fecko, Placer County Water Agency

Precedent-setting plans affecting logging, grazing and other activities in national forests bring concerns for California agricultural and forestry groups, which say the plans must allow for continued multiple uses of federal lands.

National forests cover millions of acres in California and benefit the people of the state by supporting local economies and jobs, environment and wildlife, and serve as a filter for more than half of the state's water supply. With increased attention to forestland due to megafires and droughts, dead and dying trees and pests and disease, the California Farm Bureau Federation and other organizations weighed in on draft plans that outline how national forestland in the state could be managed for the next dozen years or longer.

Specifically, the groups commented on revised draft environmental impact statements and forest plans for the Sierra and Sequoia national forests—two of the 19 national forests in California due to have their plans updated. The forest plans affect a variety of topics including grazing, timber harvest and water quality, and could be finalized next year.

CFBF Federal Policy consultant Erin Huston said the U.S. Forest Service's plans for the Sierra and Sequoia forests "will be precedent-setting for the next forests that undergo plan revision" because they're among the first in California to affected by a 2012 planning rule. CFBF submitted comments with a coalition of Farm Bureaus and others in the affected counties of Calaveras, Mariposa, Mendocino, Modoc, Shasta, Tulare and Tuolumne.

"These forest plans guide what can happen on forests and how it can happen for the long term," Huston said. "Our comments emphasized that the plans continue to be guidelines and should not be prescriptive in a way that limits the multiple uses that our members care about, such as forestry and grazing."

Given tree mortality, fuel load, fire risk and other issues, she said, agricultural groups see multiple uses of forestland as a solution, and want to assure "that those multiple uses are not only preserved but expanded upon."

In its comments, the Farm Bureau coalition recommends the draft plans be revised to emphasize the benefits of grazing, to provide direction to actively pursue fuels management pre- and post-fire and to manage invasive species. Grazing on national forest lands in California has been reduced by almost 50%, the coalition comments said.

"We need to look at livestock as the solution," Huston said. "The Forest Service should be actively seeking opportunities to use livestock in areas to help meet vegetation and fuel objectives."

The Farm Bureau coalition said the updated plan for the Sierra and Sequoia forests must address tree mortality and identify activities the agency will undertake to remove dead trees, and noted that the plan fails to address an exception allowing increased timber sales above the planned volume to combat insect epidemics.

Steve Brink, vice president of public resources for the California Forestry Association, said under the agency's preferred alternative, annual timber harvests would not generate enough volume to maintain existing sawmills in Sonora and Terra Bella.

"One of their primary issues for this forest plan revision was to generate at least one alternative that would maintain the infrastructure," Brink said. "Their preferred alternative doesn't do it, so that's one of our major concerns."

CFBF Second Vice President Shaun Crook, a Tuolumne County timber operator, said, "On timber production, if we want to keep people in this business and have bodies to do this work, then the national forests and federal government have to be open for business."

A related issue, Brink said, is the agency's preferred alternative maintains a maximum 30-inch-diameter limit on what trees can be harvested, which he described as an arbitrary number.

"The 30-inch-diameter limit is a constraint to the forest being able to move stands to an eventual desired condition that's resilient to wildfire, insects and disease," Brink said. "It's a constraint that has no science. It's becoming a limitation, because both the canopy and the number of stems are too dense, and you can't thin it because of the 30-inch-diameter limitation."

He said the draft plans also do "a very poor job" in considering bioenergy—particularly use of biomass—and that lack of vegetation management in riparian conservation areas would lead to "an ever-increasing risk of large wildfires and insect and disease."

Related to water, the Farm Bureau coalition said the draft document does not consider the impact wildfire has on water quality, quantity and watershed condition.

"Given that the snowpack is our natural reservoir, we don't think the documents adequately address, given the catastrophic wildfires, the sediment that is ending up in water," Huston said.

Brink noted that Placer County has spent millions of dollars dredging Oxbow Reservoir of about 330,000 tons of sediment that flowed into the Rubicon River following the 2014 King Fire in the Eldorado National Forest.

"With megafires, you can have massive input of sediment into the stream system in a watershed post-fire because you've denuded the slopes of live vegetation and you have no root strength," he said. "In some cases, watersheds just frankly come apart; the topsoil just goes down the hill and into the streams."

In its comments, the Farm Bureau coalition emphasized the need for plan revisions that consider local input and assure flexibility.

"We want to make sure that we still have local control and also that you don't have a one-size-fits-all environmental policy," Crook said, "because the conditions on the Sierra National Forest could be different than conditions on the Lassen National Forest. You cannot have a blanket policy for all of these forests when they're all so different."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.