Feds Uphold Sierra Old Growth Protection

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Sacramento, CA (AP by Jim Wasserman)--The Bush administration said Thursday it will implement a Clinton-era plan offering greater protection to old-growth woodlands in 11.5 million acres of national forests in the Sierra Nevada.

The news cheered environmentalists and disappointed loggers and others who hoped the Republican administration would throw out the management plan for 11 national forests in California and Nevada.

The ruling by Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey upheld last month's Forest Service decision to reject appeals by loggers, ski resorts and off-road groups. The Agriculture Department oversees the Forest Service.

The plan took the Forest Service nine years and $12 million to craft, and began in 1992 as an effort to protect the endangered spotted owl.

``It is the Forest Service's best effort to date to lay out a blueprint to manage the forests of the Sierra Nevada,'' said Rey, a former timber lobbyist.

The plan adds safeguards for endangered species and bans logging of most trees larger than 20 inches in diameter. Environmentalists said logging will be limited to levels one-tenth those during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

California Forestry Association President David Bischel called Rey's ruling the ``worst decision they could have made'' and one that will ``add to the risk of catastrophic wildfire.''

He said forestry groups may eventually take their case to court.

Bob Roberts, director of California Snow, a group of Sierra Nevada ski resorts, also expressed displeasure. Ski resorts won't be able to add new lifts if they can't remove trees larger than 20 inches in diameter, he said.

``Recreations has been a casualty of the process,'' Roberts said.

Forest Service officials said they intend to revise the plan to better prevent destructive wildfires that frequently rage in the nation's longest unbroken mountain range. Some of the revisions incorporate points made by plan opponents, they said.

Environmentalists said they fear that might be a backdoor way to accomplish more logging. They, too, promised to sue if that happens.

But spokesmen for environmental organizations had mostly praise for Rey's decision.

``Today the sun is shining on California's Range of Light,'' said Jay Watson, regional director the Wilderness Society, borrowing 19th century conservationist John Muir's description of the mountain range.