A bush administration official will review a new plan that increases logging levels in the Sierra Nevada, adding another twist to a decadelong fight over the future of national-forest...

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A Bush administration official will review a new plan that increases logging levels in the Sierra Nevada, adding another twist to a decadelong fight over the future of national-forest land in California’s most famous mountain range.

The review by Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey opens the possibility of revisions to a plan that has been criticized by the timber industry for not allowing enough logging and by environmentalists for allowing too much.

“The undersecretary didn’t give me any reasons for doing a review other than to say he was doing it,” said Dan Jiron, national press officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

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Jiron said Rey had reviewed other forest plans in the past, typically making minor changes.

“Would he rewrite the decision entirely? The answer is no,” Jiron said.

But Rey could send the plan back to California for extensive modifications.

The plan Rey has chosen to review is itself a revision of a wide-ranging set of protections adopted for the Sierra’s 11.5 million acres of national-forest land during the Clinton administration.

Those guidelines de-emphasized commercial timber harvesting, set aside 4 million acres of old-growth reserves where only small trees could be cut, and relied heavily on controlled burning to reduce the risk of wildfire.

After President Bush took office, the administration moved to weaken the Clinton rules, saying they were too restrictive and didn’t do enough to thin dense growth that can fuel forest fires.

Regional Forester Jack Blackwell amended the Clinton plan early this year to allow for more logging of larger trees, effectively eliminating old-growth reserves and loosening habitat protections for rare species.

Blackwell’s decision, appealed by timber interests and environmentalists, was upheld in November by Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth. Rey, who oversees the Forest Service, informed officials Tuesday that he was reviewing Bosworth’s action.

In the background is a lawsuit filed by the timber industry — and the promise of more lawsuits to come from environmentalists and the California attorney general’s office.

The California Forestry Association, a timber-industry group, sued the Forest Service this month, contending the latest Sierra plan still contained too many logging restrictions and thus undermined one of the primary reasons national forests were created — to provide timber.

Environmentalists and the attorney general’s office have criticized the Forest Service for weakening wildlife and old-growth protections.

In light of the timber lawsuit, Rey’s review could be “an attempt by the Bush administration to give the industry what they want, which is a settlement that remands (the plan) back for increased logging in the Sierra Nevada,” said Craig Thomas, executive director of the Sierra Nevada Forest Protection Campaign.

The administration has cited other industry lawsuits in dropping environmental protections.