Kings River Project

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KREW and Dinkey Projects

February, 2011 The Forest Service released its draft EIS today for the Kings River Experimental Watershed Forest Health and Research Project, or KREW. The project area encompasses 3,051 acres and has two separate parts extracted from the original Kings River Project EIS: the KREW Providence Unit (1,899 acres) and the KREW Bull Unit (1,152 acres). The KREW Providence Unit is off of the Dinkey Creek Road, adjacent to the Providence Creek Road. The KREW Bull Unit is on Patterson Mountain adjacent to the Ross Crossing Road and includes part of the Teakettle Experimental Forest.

The Notice of Intent to prepare a draft environmental impact statement was announced in October, 2009. Read our comments on the recently released DEIS here.

December 2010 A new model for collaboration

In California, Forest Service Region 5, the Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project was selected for the region's first project under the 2009 Forest Landscape Restoration Act, or FLRA. Dinkey was originally one of the projects included in the contested Kings River Project. Today we are working with the Dinkey Collaborative to promote ecologically appropriate restoration within the Dinkey project area, utilizing the ecologically attuned PSW GTR-220 guidance developed by PSW research scientists Malcolm North, Peter Stine, Kevin O'Hara, William Zielinkski, and Scott Stephens. This is a significant new change in direction for the agency -- change that is needed if true sustainability of forest ecosystem health is ever to be realised.

The FLRA establishes the means to implement this new direction for national forest management. The act provides new funding for science-based, collaborative projects with a restoration priority for our national forests. Title IV of the 2009 Omnibus Bill, the Forest Landscape Restoration Act establishes a fund up to $40 million annually from 2009 through 2014. Up to $4 million can be allocated for any one project and up to two projects per year for any Forest Service Region.

Background History -- Kings River Project

On February 11, 2008 the Sierra National Forest decided to withdraw the 2006 Record of Decision (ROD) for the Kings River Project, representing an important victory for the Pacific fisher and the forest ecosystem as a whole.

Part of the rationale for withdrawing the Kings River decision is the release of preliminary scientific findings conducted by the Conservation Biology Institute (CBI). CBI has been under contract to conduct a habitat assessment of the Pacific fisher in the southern Sierra Nevada with money allocated in 2006 by the Bush Administration and distributed through the U.S. Forest Service. This $225,000 investment sought to determine the cumulative impacts that logging operations and habitat alteration have on the long-term viability on the remaining (estimated as roughly 350 individuals) fisher in the region. Initial findings from this habitat assessment have at least in part lead the Forest Service to withdraw their Record of Decision and propose a new plan for the Kings River area.

What changes are made to the proposed project in the next round of plan documents will be an important measure of what impact this new habitat research has had on the decision makers at the Forest Service. Without a significant change to the size, intensity, and scope of the Kings River Project which greatly reduces the potential negative impacts on the Pacific fisher and other at-risk species the forthcoming planning project could again be one which is not supported by conservation organizations and independent wildlife biologists.

The withdrawn Kings River Project was a 131,500 acre logging project planned for the High Sierra Ranger District on the Sierra National Forest south of Yosemite. It is an "adaptive management experiment" that was likely to extinguish two highly at-risk species, the Pacific Fisher and the Yosemite Toad, both of which are candidates for listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The Kings River Project was exempted from the 2004 Framework revisions which itself weakened the conservation-focused 2001 Framework Plan.

Phase I (Alternative 1) of the Kings River Project included 13,800 acres of aggressive thinning of trees up to 35" diameter, and over 600 acres of group selection clearcuts up to 3 acres in size.

Kings River Project is home to the very rare Pacific Fisher (Martes pennanti) which in April 8, 2004 (Federal Register 18770) was determined to be warranted for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act in the 12-month Finding by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (under the Bush Administration). There was little debate about the risk of extinction of the fisher in the southern Sierra.

While the Fish and Wildlife Service (FR 18773 4-8-04) found logging and openings (forest fragmentation) to be damaging to the fisher and one of the primary causes of their potential demise, the Kings River project would have fostered aggressive logging in the heart of the remaining fisher population.

On September 12, 2008, the Forest Service issued revisions to the 2006 proposals, with a new draft supplemental EIS for the Kings River Project. The new proposal included five alternatives, ranging from the agency's proposed action Alternative 1, the most aggressive thinning proposal allowing cutting trees up to 35 inches diameter (DBH), and three other action alternatives that are indistinguishable from one another, other than small differences in planting and herbicide acres and an upper diameter limit of 20 inches in Alternative 5. The Supplemental DEIS and other documents can be downloaded here. In November, Sierra Forest Legacy submitted comments on the SDEIS (also see under Resources on this page).

The revised plan lacked clarity and failed to provide scientific support for many of its assertions. Most significantly, the plan still does not provide adequate protection for the imperiled Pacific fisher. We continue to assert that a 20 inch diameter limit based on the standards of the 2001 Framework and ROD can achieve the necessary fire protection as well as provide the most benefit to fisher and other species needing larger trees and old forest habitat. The CBI study, for example, showed that a 12 inch diameter limit positively affected fire behavior and effect (see Resources on this page). Further, the SDEIS still promotes the "Inverse J Curve" silviculture model that has been discredited by the agency's top research scientists in the Sierra Nevada.

Overall, the SDEIS is a disappointment, demonstrating that the Forest Service continues to be unable or is unwilling to incorporate the best available science into critical planning documents in the waning days of the Bush administration.