Forest staff trims acreage in Rim fire replanting plan

Fire rages out of control in the Stanislaus National Forest in August, 2013
Fire rages out of control in the Stanislaus National Forest in August, 2013 Modesto Bee file

The Stanislaus National Forest has reduced by nearly a third, to 21,300 acres, the land it proposes to replant in the Rim fire area.

A timber industry leader said he was disappointed by the new plan but hopes to work with other interested parties to get the project moving. An environmental leader objected to using herbicides to help the conifer seedlings survive, but he too said he hopes for compromise.

The forest staff had proposed in February to replant 30,065 acres but reduced it following a closer look at conditions left by the massive 2013 fire.

Both proposals are a small percentage of the 257,314 acres in the burn area. Some of it is private timberland where reforestation already is underway. Some is in Yosemite National Park, where burned land is left to recover naturally. And the national forest portion includes areas that lack roads, that are brush rather than timber, or that burned lightly enough that surviving trees will drop cones that produce new seedlings.

The revision shifts 4,031 acres from replanting to natural regeneration and adds about 3,400 acres that would be managed more for oaks, which is good habitat for deer but not a source of lumber.

Recovery from the fire, the largest ever recorded in the Sierra Nevada, is key to a Tuolumne County timber industry that employs several hundred people. It also matters to the northern San Joaquin Valley, which gets much of its water from this area and is the source of many recreational visitors.

The new reforestation plan will undergo 45 days of public comment, including an open house Thursday in Sonora. Forest Supervisor Jeanne Higgins could make a tentative decision in April and a final one by August, reforestation team leader Maria Benech said. Planting could start in 2017 and take three to five years to complete.

The fire started Aug. 17, 2013, near the confluence of the Tuolumne and Clavey rivers. Keith Matthew Emerald of Columbia was accused of building an illegal campfire that caused the blaze, but federal prosecutors in May dropped the charges because two key witnesses had died.

Getting this area replanted as quickly as possible is a very high priority for foresters and natural resource managers.

Mike Albrecht, industry forester

Industry forester Mike Albrecht said he has not read details of the new reforestation plan but would like to see the U.S. Forest Service “plant as many acres as it possibly can.” He owns a Jamestown-area company that does logging and other work in the woods, and is a leader with the Tuolumne County Alliance for Resources and Environment.

“Getting this area replanted as quickly as possible is a very high priority for foresters and natural resource managers,” Albrecht said. He added that herbicides are needed for plantation survival and he hopes that litigation does not delay their use.

Albrecht also co-chairs Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, a coalition of business, environmental and other groups concerned about the national forest and park. The other co-chairman is John Buckley, executive director of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte.

Buckley said his and other environmental groups “strongly support replanting vast areas of the Rim fire that burned so severely few or no conifers survived.”

But he said the current proposal relies too much on the herbicide glyphosate.

“The agency should only be proposing to spray a potential cancer-causing chemical on the relatively small percentage of acres where tree seedlings truly won’t survive without herbicides,” Buckley said.

CSERC also said the plantations should have lower tree density and more irregular spacing than in the Forest Service proposal, so they would better mimic fire resistance of natural forests.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

At a glance

What: Open house on Rim fire reforestation proposal

When: 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Stanislaus National Forest headquarters, 19777 Greenley Road, Sonora

Online: www.fs.usda.gov/stanislaus