The Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (Framework)
The original Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment was adopted in January 2001 to direct the management of 11.5 million acres of California's national forest lands. In developing the 2001 Framework, more than 60 public meetings were held prior to the draft EIS and more than another 60 public meetings were held between the draft and final plans.
The plan was widely praised as a model of cooperation between the Forest Service, scientists, business leaders, and conservationists. Completed during the Clinton era, the Framework was heralded for protecting old-growth and laying the groundwork for watershed restoration. The plan represented the culmination of 10 years of scientific analysis and received more than 47,000 public comments and peer reviews by independent scientists. The only gridlock or paralysis in this ten-year saga has been the Forest Service’s cultural resistance to embracing the current scientific and legal parameters for doing professional environmental analysis. The original Framework was never implemented due to logging interests convincing the Bush Administration that it was bad policy.
Key facts about the Framework
- Provides that all old-growth stands of one acre or larger would be off-limits to most logging, and 4.25 million acres of land would be managed as old forest emphasis areas to promote old-growth values.
- Allows logging only as a means for reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire and restricts logging to selective thinning of smaller trees. Fuels reduction efforts are focused around communities at risk.
- Calls for key core area protections for the California spotted owl and Northern goshawk throughout the Sierra Nevada totaling approximately 640,000 acres.
- Protects all trees greater than 20” in diameter on 11 million of the 11.5 million acres of public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.
- Creates a 1 million acre Southern Fisher Conservation Area designed to ensure an effective and substantial area of habitat protection for this imperiled species.
- Requires a 300’ stream buffer system which significantly limits logging activities in highly sensitive and ecologically valuable watersheds.
- Creates approximately 460,000 acres of critical aquatic refuges designed to protect the ecological functions of these essential habitats.
- Advocates a fuels-reduction program that specifically conditions treatments to focus on small diameter trees, brush and surface fuels.
The Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment Planning History
- 1992 - The California Spotted Owl Technical Report was published. It provided the scientific support for changing forest management practices from clear-cutting to the protection of owl nest areas, large trees, and canopy cover.
- 1993 - California Spotted Owl Interim Guidelines decision was signed by the Regional Forester implementing recommendations of Forest Service Technical Report. These guidelines were estimated to last two years but were in place for eight.
- 1995 to 1997 - Forest Service produced Draft Environmental Impact Statement in 1995 and a Revised Draft EIS in 1996. Both documents were withdrawn due to serious scientific and legal flaws.
- 1996 - Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report published. This seven million dollar report is the most comprehensive assessment of an ecosystem every accomplished.
- 1997 - A Federal Advisory Committee reported on their review of the Forest Service planning efforts (DEIS and RDEIS) and cited sixty-nine issues and concerns including the failure to fully consider the SNEP Report, failure to involve the scientific community, inappropriate viability assessments and the lack of any consideration of the uniqueness of old-growth forests and their constituent species. The Committee stated the analysis was inadequate for the spotted owl and as an ecosystem level document.
- 1998 - The Forest Service began a re-analysis of Sierra Nevada forest management issues by initiating a review of the new scientific information. This planning effort evolved into the Sierra Nevada Framework FEIS and Record of Decision which was signed in January of 2001
- Approximate cost of all of the above planning efforts: $25 to $30 million dollars.
- The Framework Decision was appealed by multiple resources extraction interests but was upheld, on every issue, by the Forest Service Washington D.C. Office and by Forest Chief Dale Bosworth.