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Letter to the Editor: Industrial logging project dressed up as public safety

Editor—

You may be forgiven for having missed this, since the US Forest Service has been rather quiet about its plans for one of the largest logging programs ever proposed for Plumas County. However, public land owners (that’s you, by the way) should be aware that the Forest Service is planning to authorize industrial logging and other forest “treatment” activities starting this year on more than 217,000 acres of public land bordering Plumas County communities. These activities include use of harvesters, excavators, bulldozers, track chippers, masticators, feller/bunchers, and widespread application of chemical herbicides including glyphosate — linked with serious ecological and health damage.

 
While being marketed to the public as a “forest thinning project” and “community wildfire defense” is truthfully a large-scale, industrial logging project dressed up as a fire safety project playing to (legitimate) public fears over wildfire. By implying that this project will “protect communities” the USFS is giving the public false assurances that logging the forest will protect homes from wildfire, when in fact home hardening and defensible space are what truly saves homes and lives. That is not what this project is about.
The USFS “Community Protection” project would mean significant changes to local forests that may worsen forest health, increase carbon emissions, harm wildlife and destroy habitat, reduce windbreaks, humidity and shade in forests and thus, actually increase exposure of communities to wildfire. The public is encouraged to write to the Forest Service with your comments on this plan.
 
You have until 11:59 pm on July 19th to comment on the “Community Protection Project” Environmental Assessment that can be found here:
https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/plumas/?project=62873

Comment can be submitted as follows according to the US Forest Service:

“Please submit your electronic comments to: [email protected]. Electronic comments must be submitted in plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf), Word (.doc or .docx, portable document format (.pdf) or as an email message. Please include “Community Protection – Central and West Slope” in the subject line. Hard copy comments may be mailed to: Plumas National Forest Attn: Christopher Carlton, Forest Supervisor, 159 Lawrence Street, Quincy, California 95971

All this is proposed nearby and in many cases directly adjacent to residential communities in Plumas County, particularly in the Quincy/ Graeagle/ Portola corridor. Public participation opportunities so far have been minimal, no public meetings or open houses scheduled and the brief 30-day comment window for the 900+ page report is held during the height of summer vacation. It almost seems like the Forest Service doesn’t really want the public to weigh in on this one, which makes it more important than ever that you read the plan and engage with the process. This project is on an unprecedented scale and will affect you personally if you live in or visit Plumas County.

While the Environmental Assessment for the project focuses on fuel reduction in forests as a strategy to mitigate community wildfire risk, there is little discussion about fostering higher humidity, shadier (hence cooler) forests, and facilitating and allowing the return of dominant old-growth forests — critical to resiliency as well as true community protection when wildfire does inevitably occur. Increasing reports suggest that unleashing heavy equipment (especially on such a large scale) may actually worsen carbon emissions, dry out forests and increase the speed and intensity of wildfires, reducing evacuation times for nearby communities.

What we really need for “community protection” from wildfires are grants for community and home hardening and defensible space around structures, but according to the Forest Service, out of $650 million being spent on this “community protection” project, there is not a single cent allocated for actually taking the steps that are proven to save lives and property in a wildfire: creating defensible space within 100 feet of structures, and protecting buildings through the use of safer vents, siding, decking and roofing. Unfortunately, it is easier for politicians to provide favors to the politically powerful logging industry than meaningful grants that actually save lives and communities. At the end of the day, the US Forest Service should not be an active participant in the commercial logging industry. Forests are worth more to the public, to the economy and the planet’s climate intact, and with a chance to grow old.

If $650 million were divided by the number of residents in Plumas County, every adult and child would receive a check for approximately $32,500 to get new fire proof roof and siding, or whatever was needed. Giving people their tax dollars back in the form of vouchers for home hardening seems a better use of federal tax payer funds than handing it over to the logging and chemical industries, who would use it to compact the soil, create a lot of dead and dying trees and plants in a relatively pristine area, add carbon to an already enflamed climate and damage the visual appeal and wildlife habitat values of the forest, leading to impacts on the recreation and tourism industry, and beyond.

The extreme wildfires we have witnessed in the past few years have been now linked conclusively to human caused climate warming. It is not “overgrown forests” that cause extreme fires— that is a logging industry myth. Winds and heat — both climate driven—  are what drives these extreme events such as the Dixie Fire. Forests that are denser actually burn slower as they hold moisture better and act as windbreaks. Read Chad Hanson’s Smokescreen— available at the Plumas County Library for more information and scientific studies on these issues.

The need to reduce carbon emissions is primary and urgent if we are to avoid truly catastrophic fire and weather events in the future that threaten the stability of civilization. Allowing forests to absorb more carbon is not possible if we continue to attack these delicate ecosystems with industrial equipment.

Intervention and respectful management is clearly needed in the form of more underburns, community fire hardening, mulching, beaver dam development, and hand thinning near communities. But allowing forests near communities to be heavily logged (as this plan would) will lead to unwanted impacts such as small trees sprouting up in the disturbed soil which are even more flammable than what was there before.

As for the editors, hope you can investigate what is actually being planned for nearby forests and cover both sides of this important issue in your last month of operation. (Thank you for all your work and we will miss you! Hope someone with a good eye for the truth can continue to report the news, especially on government issues).
 
In the meantime, this week we urge people to read the extreme logging program planned for the Plumas National Forest and submit your comments. There is just one week left to do so.


Josh Hart

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