Historic agreement reached on Sequoia Forest plan

Originally Published in the Sierra Club, Tehipite Topics
September 1990 • Vol. 37, No. 9

John Rasmussen, Tehipite

After a year and a half of negotiations, a settlement has been reached on the Sierra Club's Sequoia National Forest Plan Appeal. Represented by the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund with Julie McDonald as Lead attorney, the Club entered the negotiation process with the belief that the settlement could potentially reap major improvements in the forest plan, and much has been achieved. While not perfect, the agreed-upon plan reflects major, impressive improvements on the draft plan and on historic practices on the forest. We join the Wilderness Society, Natural Resource Defense Council, Save-the Redwoods League, California Native Plant Society, CalTrout, State of California (Environmental Division of Attorney General's Office), Southwest Council of Federal Flyfishers and Kaweah Flyfishers in signing this agreement. Below is a synopsis of the major achievements.

Protection of giant Sequoias. In recent years the forest has been harvesting some of the remaining groves giant Sequoias, shocking, alarming and motivating grassroots activists. The negotiated settlement allows NO harvesting within any old growU1 Sequoia groves and also saves part of Converse Basin which was logged at the tum of the century, requires buffer strips around the groves to prevent windfall and other degradation of the groves, and includes a study of the boundaries of Sequoia groves to ensure that they are all protected, to be conducted by a team including Sierra Club and Save-the-Redwoods League, the Forest Service and representatives of the timber industry. Protection from logging for almost all the timbered roadless areas in Sequoia National Forest, which will be removed from timber base. One roadless are, Moses, will be recommended for permanent Wilderness protection by the Forest Service (this is virtually unheard of in final plans for states that have had post-RARE II wilderness bills.)

Of the most disputed areas, Rincon is the one roadless area where logging will be allowed; only single tree and group selection will be permitted and a full EIS (environmental impact study) is required to do so, including review of dependent species such as furbearers.

The land open for logging (suitable land base) has been reduced by almost one-third--over 100,000 acres. This includes removing thousands of acres that should not have been included in the first place, such as oak forest that could be converted to pine. many of the roadless areas, streamside buffers, and other areas the agreement classifies as unregulated. This hard-fought provision is extremely important because it drives how much overall timber harvesting can be done on the entire forest.

Allowable Sale Quantity (ASQ) reduced substantially. The ASQ was proposed to be 97 million board feet in the final plan; the agreement reduces it to 75 million board feet. While some conservationists find that number to be too high, we believe two factors will help to ensure the actual cut is significantly below that number. First this region has never been funded for full ASQ. Second, meeting negotiated constraints for watershed protection, old growth retention, forbearer habitat evaluation, and so on will make it virtually impossible for the forest to reach full ASQ.

Timber harvest practices improvements. New Riparian Standards and guidelines which provide no-cut buffers for meadows as well as streams are the most stringent in the region. Perennial streams will receive a minimum 100-foot no-cut buffer on each side and intermittent streams a 50-foot buffer. Additional protections are included for important fisheries streams. Clearcutting will be limited to 600 acres per year (the plan called for 2000) and to 15 acres in size. The remainder will be shelterwood or selection cutting, and experimenting with "new forestry" techniques. Precedents applicable to other forests. The first of the Sierra national forest plan appeals to be settled, major. precedents have been set that should help us in efforts to protect other national forests including reductions in the timber base and ASQ, protection for riparian areas, and many others too numerous to detail here. Activists from other California forests should ask for a copy of the document when it is available in a few weeks so they can use it in their own forest planning process.

As part of the agreement, we will not contest timber sales under contract this year. Four of the sales are being contested in court by other parties not on the agreement, and those court suits will go forward. Besides these four, the only sales under contract are remnants of sales partially cut, nearly all of the which the club settled previously as a result of the club's 1987 lawsuit or our negations.

The Club is deeply appreciative of the efforts of the many volunteers who worked over many months negotiating these provisions, and of the Legal Defense Fund's Julie McDonald, without whose tireless efforts none of this would have been possible.

We know that this agreement is only as good as we forest activists make it. Unless we monitor its implementation rigorously, we cannot be sure the Forest Service will follow its dictates. Thus, those of us on the local level ask for your help: if you would like to volunteer to help us with identification of sequoia groves, review of timber sales, and other activities over the next few months, we welcome your assistance. Please call Joe Fontaine 555-555-5555, John Rasmussen 555-555-5555, or George Whitmore 555-555-5555 for more information.