Updated: Jul 31
Region 5 (R5) of the U.S. Forest Service has recently released two-of-three Environmental Analyses along with Draft Decision Notices for the R5 Post-Disturbance Hazardous Tree Project, which covers nine national forests. While removing hazard trees after wildfire sounds innocuous enough, the project is being proposed on over 6,000 miles of roads and trails. That’s enough distance to go from Los Angeles to New York City and back!
The project is so large, it has been split into three zones: Northern, Central, and Southern. EPIC will be addressing the North Zone, which covers over 3,000 miles of roads and trails on the Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity, Klamath and Six Rivers National Forests. Each forest requires a separate objection: the next step in the public participation process prior to a final decision and litigation under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The North Zone includes 239 watersheds and 30 municipal watersheds; nearly every major river on the North Coast would be affected. The Mad, Klamath, Trinity, Russian, and Eel Rivers are all 303(d) listed under the Clean Water Act as impaired for sediment. The Smith, Klamath, South Fork and mainstem Trinity, North and Middle Forks and mainstem Eel, North and South Forks and mainstem Salmon, and New and Black Butte Rivers are all Wild and Scenic Rivers in and near treatment areas. Many of these watersheds provide critical habitat for the survival of endangered salmon and a full spectrum of other wildlife species.
Imagine swaths of clearcuts dissecting entire watersheds; it would entail the construction of hundreds of landing sites and perhaps thousands of skid trails. A vast majority of the roads slotted for “hazard tree removal” are supposed to be maintained for 4x4 high clearance vehicles only. Many are dead end spur roads that are rarely traveled and pose a high risk to wildlife and water quality. To add insult to injury, the project also proposes to cut living trees and includes all levels of fire severity. It would entail nearly 200,000 acres of ground disturbance on soil that is just beginning to recover in forests that are just beginning to regenerate.
EPIC will be providing objections and remedies to Region 5 with the goal of diminishing the project’s size and negative environmental impacts. We will urge the U.S. Forest Service to: drop all trails from the project; retain all living trees; and concentrate only on major roads in high severity fire areas, like those that provide ingress/egress or lead to recreation sites and trailheads.
Our forests and rivers are just beginning to heal. Wildlife populations are likely also just beginning to bounce back, although it is still unknown how the recent fire seasons have impacted wildlife throughout the state. California’s national forests, animals and rivers deserve a better and finer approach to post-fire management.