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Forest issues plan for Rim fire replanting

This patch of brilliant green pasture stands out Monday among the dead trees northeast of the road to Camp Mather.
This patch of brilliant green pasture stands out Monday among the dead trees northeast of the road to Camp Mather. jjardine@modbee.com

The Stanislaus National Forest proposes to replant conifers on 30,065 of the acres burned by the massive Rim fire of 2013.

The plan, which involves about 12 percent of the total burned acreage, has drawn initial support from timber industry and environmental leaders.

“We applaud the Forest Service for putting together a reforestation program that looks like it’s going to meet the needs of the forest,” said Mike Albrecht, owner of a Jamestown-based company that does logging and other work in the woods. “But it’s unfortunate that it takes so long to get the reforestation plan together.”

The U.S. Forest Service has launched the first round of public comment on the proposal. A refined plan could be released for comment in late fall, leading to a possible decision by Forest Supervisor Jeanne Higgins in 2016. Planting could start in 2017, after seedlings are available from the Placerville nursery, and would take three to five years to complete, team leader Maria Benech said.

The plan does not cover private timberland within the burn area, which is being replanted by its owners. It also does not involve land in Yosemite National Park, where recovery is being left to natural forces.

Even in the national forest, most of the charred land would not be planted. Some of it is brush rather than timberland. Some is too steep to plant. And much of the fire zone had light to moderate damage, so regrowth can happen naturally via seed cones dropped by surviving trees.

The fire started Aug. 17, 2013, near the confluence of the Tuolumne and Clavey rivers and eventually burned 257,314 acres. It is the largest blaze on record in the Sierra Nevada and the third largest in state history. Keith Matthew Emerald of Columbia faces federal charges of starting the illegal campfire that is suspected to be the cause.

Environmental leader John Buckley said he has concerns about the reforestation plan, including herbicide spraying to kill competing vegetation, but he agrees on the overall need to replant.

“Some forest stands were so incinerated by high-severity flames that no trees survived and few, if any, cones escaped to provide seeds to get new young trees growing,” he said.

Buckley is executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, based in Twain Harte. He and Albrecht are co-chairmen of Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, a coalition that includes conservation groups, the timber industry and other partners.

They said the coalition will work to achieve a final reforestation plan that balances all the needs. It did the same last year with the plan for salvage logging of some of the fire-killed trees, which is providing raw material to lumber mills.

Buckley questions the proposed planting density of 200 to 300 seedlings per acre. This might make sense for lumber production, he said, but it could result in a forest thick with wildfire fuels.

Benech said the density would vary across the terrain, with fewer trees on fire-prone ridgetops and more in moister soil near streams. The planting would be in clumps, as opposed to the rows in past plantations.

The seedlings would be genetically suited to the elevation and other conditions at each planting site. They would take several decades to grow to a size for logging, and even longer in areas managed to mimic old-growth wildlife habitat.

Small parts of the fire area would be managed for deer, with an emphasis on oaks over conifers. The plan also involves thinning conifer plantations that survived the Rim fire and using herbicides on “noxious” weeds that have invaded some areas.

Sierra Pacific Industries, by far the largest landowner in the fire area, will replant about 11,500 acres this year and next, said Mark Pawlicki, director of corporate affairs and sustainability. Two of the Redding-based company’s sawmills are in Tuolumne County.

SPI has completed salvage logging on its land, which made way for the planting crews.

“Our goal is to get the area replanted as soon as we can, get the forest started for the future,” Pawlicki said.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

HOW TO COMMENT

The public has until April 13 to comment on the Rim fire reforestation plan, which can be viewed at www.fs.usda.gov/main/stanislaus. Comments can be made:

▪ By email to comments-pacificsouthwest-stanislaus@fs.fed.us. Include “Rim Reforestation” in the subject line.

▪ By fax to (209) 533-1890

▪ By mail to Stanislaus National Forest, Attn: Rim Reforestation, 19777 Greenley Road, Sonora 95370.

For more information, contact reforestation team leader Maria Benech at (209) 532-3671, ext. 463.

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