It’s been a four-year process to bring the Keddie Ridge Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project to the draft environmental impact statement stage, but that is where it’s at — almost.
Breathing easier may be just a few more months away for residents who have lived in fear of wildfires since the Moonlight Fire in 2007 caused so many of them to evacuate their homes, and even the state during the weeks of smoke- and ash-filled skies that seemed to spread from Southern California all the way to the Oregon border.
Forest Service experts are now studying and incorporating public comments made in previous rounds, including those made during the first scoping stage in December 2006, another in 2009 and the current one this year.
Although the date was past for comment Wednesday, June 16, when officials conducted an open house in Greenville, they were still accepting comments from those few people who attended.
Among those attending were Bob Carter of Round Valley Lake Resort, where one treatment unit is located.
Rather than a focus on fuel reduction for safety’s sake, this area is one where the hazardous fuel reduction is secondary to the protection and enhancement of habitat for bald eagle nesting areas and sensitive plants like the lady’s-slipper orchid and Constance’s rock cress.
“It really needs it,” Carter said in support of the thinning work needed to accomplish the habitat improvements.
While Carter did not submit a written comment, at least two other attendees did, Greenville resident Hank Alrich, who is against the use of herbicides for the several noxious weed treatment units proposed, and Counties’ Quincy Library Group Forester Frank Stewart, who urged movement ahead on the project, as well as total removal of proposed noxious weed treatments with herbicide.
“Do not hang up this urgently needed project because of 102 acres of desired noxious weed treatments with herbicides,” he wrote in an April 2010 comment.
Rather than placing the whole project at risk from appeals and lawsuits that would be filed by objectionists, like Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, he thought the treatments should be removed and done in a completely separate project.
Several of the Keddie units are marked for noxious weed treatment, including Peter’s Creek, where there are star thistles over a large area adjacent to private land, and north of the confluence of Lights and Indian creeks, where there are star and Canada thistles, as well as Medusahead. And there are others.
Besides the comment opposing inclusion of herbicide treatments and several helpful comments about the completeness and relevance of the project documents, Stewart also emphasized the social and economic importance of moving forward without any more delays.
“We are 11 years into a five-year, congressionally approved pilot project, and only 58 percent of the acres, 46 percent of the saw log volume and 58 percent of the biomass volume have been accomplished,” Stewart wrote. “In case you are not aware, the current unemployment situation in Plumas County is at 22.8 percent and every effort must be made to get this and other QLG projects through the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process and on to the bid table so contracts can be awarded and people can get back to work!”
Another of the points he made in writing was that it is important to include historical and charted images of all hazardous fuels thinning projects done in the area, kind of like providing the “big picture,” that shows how all such projects in the Wildland Urban Interface area are connected to provide a more fire-resistant landscape around communities like those in Indian Valley.
Back on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2007, a map from the scoping documents that ran on the front page of the Indian Valley Record included depictions of these interfaces, though not of all the other interconnected projects.
This year, that map was available during the final round of scoping, thanks to the Plumas County Fire Safe Council. This map ran on the front page of the April 21, 2010 issue of the Indian Valley Record and in other county newspapers.
Other comments received can be classified in two categories, supportive and oppositional.
Each is important in the scoping process, according to project leader Katherine Carpenter of the Mt. Hough Ranger District.
“We have a role to play in bringing forward opposing views,” she said.
For example, while Forest Service scientists might claim a 40-percent canopy cover is most beneficial for both fire resilience and habitat improvement, oppositionists claim that scientific research from a variety of sources points to a desired 70- to 90-percent canopy cover.
And in the case of the spotted owl, local scientists have observed them living in burned areas of the forest, while oppositionists did not think that would be possible.
Carpenter said the agency must read each reference made in those opposing viewpoints and then decide what to dismiss and what to incorporate based on the relevance.
“They (oppositionists and other groups) often submit references from old studies or those done elsewhere, some of which are not applicable to conditions on Plumas National Forest,” she said.
For example, one argument against herbicide use is that is will negatively impact a coral reef out in the ocean, while the scientists here know that such small amounts used so far away will not have such an impact.
So in that one case, the argument would be dismissed, while others, such as application methods to mitigate impacts might be incorporated.
“We certainly incorporate their ideas,” Carpenter said. “Many times they show us things we were not aware of.”
Comments not mentioned already include supportive comments from the California Forestry Association which, like Stewart, wish the economics to be considered in the plan, as well as Sierra Pacific Industries who, also like Stewart, wished work to be started on the ground as soon as possible, since it was originally expected the final environmental analysis to be completed by August 2007, the month before the Moonlight Wildfire.
One comment was received in support of maintaining and improving off-highway vehicle access in the forest.
Opposing comments were from groups like CATs, The John Muir Project and Sierra Forest Legacy.
Other comments included private interests and those made in concern of historical and cultural resources from Enterprise Rancheria of Oroville and the Chico Rancheria.
Those interested in studying the scoping documents online may visit http://bit.ly/9cpbfv. The Forest Service project page will open, and viewers may click on the Keddie Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project.
The Draft Environmental Impact Statement will not be published to the site until it is completed, probably in October 2010, when there will be another opportunity for public comment.
To see the comments or for other viewing options, those interested may call Katherine Carpenter at 283-7619.
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