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'Threatened' list hits Stanislaus

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'Threatened' list hits Stanislaus

Postby ERIC » Fri May 19, 2006 9:39 am

'Threatened' list hits Stanislaus

Published: May 18, 2006

A statewide coalition of conservation groups has placed the Stanislaus National Forest on its annual list of California's 10 Most Threatened Wild Places.

The report, released yesterday by the California Wilderness Coalition, says increased logging on the forest and snowmobile use in the Pacific Valley roadless area, in the forest's Calaveras Ranger District, threatens pristine wilderness and rare wildlife species.

Brent Schoradt, the coalition's deputy policy director, said his organization is concerned about an upcoming U.S. Forest Service winter recreation plan for the Highway 4 corridor.

That plan, he said, could leave the Pacific Valley "vulnerable" to snowmobile use.

The Bridgeport Ranger District of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest decided last summer to open 7,000 acres surrounding Leavitt Lake, off Highway 108, to snowmobile use.

Even though snowmobiles had been banned there since 1981, people continued to ride in that area — just over the east side of Sonora Pass.

"That's exactly what we're concerned about happening with the Pacific Valley," Schoradt said.

The rugged Pacific Valley roadless area, east of Bear Valley and Lake Alpine, is just under 10,000 acres in the northeast corner of the forest. It extends from the Highway 4 area to the boundary of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

"The shallow soils and steep slopes of the Pacific Valley make it a particularly delicate portion of the forest," the report states, adding that Forest Service officials are "blatantly" ignoring illegal snowmobile use in the valley.

Stanislaus National Forest spokesman Jerry Snyder said technically it is not illegal to snowmobile in the Pacific Valley roadless area.

"It is discouraged by the Forest Service because it is not compatible with our forest management plan," he said.

Snyder said that while the forest's 15-year-old plan does not allow motor vehicles in areas such as Pacific Valley, the Stanislaus does not have forest orders, or legal documents, to keep people out.

"Administratively, we do not want motor vehicles in those areas," he said. "There is not a forest order that legally closes that area."

Snyder said the forest expects to address the Pacific Valley issue when it updates its management plan within the next few years.

The Stanislaus National Forest — one of two places in the Sierra Nevada on the coalition's list — was chosen because it "pinpoints a forest with major environmental concerns," said John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center.

Buckley — one of the most active and outspoken environmentalists in this region — was contacted by the coalition and supplied them with information for their report, titled "Our Natural Heritage at Risk."

The list was chosen based on the severity of the threats and the ecological and cultural significance of the affected areas, among other criteria.

Along with snowmobile abuse, the group says increased logging on the Stanislaus forest poses a threat.

Of the two issues, the forest's accelerated logging plans have generated more interest in the Mother Lode.

However, the coalition's report focused more on snowmobile use in the Pacific Valley roadless area — even suggesting people write a letter to Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn urging him to keep people out of the area.

As part of its five-year vegetation management plan, the forest will increase its timber harvest amounts from 14 million board-feet last year to about 38 million board-feet by the end of the decade.

A board foot is an inch-thick, foot-square piece of lumber.

"The Forest Service claims that the new logging plan will reduce fire risk," the report states. "However, scientists tell us that fire risk is reduced by treating brush, limbs and small trees on the forest floor, not by commercial logging practices that focus on larger trees with high habitat values."

The American marten — a small, rare member of the weasel family — has disappeared from the most heavily logged areas of the forest, according to the report.

Established 30 years ago, the California Wilderness Coalition has its headquarters in Oakland and field offices in Redding, Eureka and Riverside County.

Schoradt said the coalition has about 5,000 individual members and more than 100 business sponsors and member organizations, including the California Native Plant Society.

Each year, the coalition works with partner organizations, scientists and others to assess threats to California's wilderness.

CSERC is not an official member of the coalition, however, the Twain Harte-based group agrees with CWC's concerns regarding the Stanislaus, Buckley said.

Other threatened places on the fifth-annual top 10 list are: the Colorado Desert (Anza-Borrego Desert, Indian Pass and Shavers Valley); the Mojave Desert (Furnace Creek, Red Rock Canyon and Surprise Canyon); Southern California national forests, Owens Valley and the Klamath River Basin.

Contact Mike Morris at mmorris@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4537.
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