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Forest Service Plays To Capacity Crowd

It was standing room only inside the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors chambers on Tuesday as Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn and staff conducted a study session with the board to address logging in the forest.

Dozens of mill workers and logging proponents gathered in front of the courthouse prior to the start of the meeting to call attention to temporary layoffs at the Keystone, Sonora and Chinese Camp mills by Sierra Pacific Industries of up to 150 employees. Lumber and sawmill worker´s union representative Steve Sias says the reason for the rally was twofold.

“One is to draw community awareness to the timber issue on the Stanislaus National Forest and the other is to draw attention to the threat of wildfire in our community.”

Over 100 people, many of them logging proponents , filed into the Board of Supervisors after the rally to hear Stanislaus National Forest Supervisor Tom Quinn address the board regarding the complexities of timber harvests in the forest. Quinn says only about 201-thousand acres of the 899-thousand acre big Stanislaus National Forest is viable for logging operations.

That´s due to a number of factors, including areas previously devastated by wildfire, wildlife habitat, wilderness areas and special recreation areas, like ski resorts. Some areas are considered off-limits because they are home to sensitive species like the Spotted Owl and the Goss Hawk.

Quinn says lack of funding and personnel also limit the ability of local Forest Service officials to offer more timber for harvest. Budget allocations are decided at the federal level. Approximately 10-million board feet was offered for harvest in the Stanislaus last year. Quinn says he´s working on a plan that will allow double that amount to be offered for logging in 2006.

“We´re focusing on the wildland-urban interface. We are able to get into some areas that have some substantial trees and substantial volume and that´s why we´re hopeful we can get that level up in 2006. We don´t know yet if that will be sustainable”

Tucare representative Melinda Fleming seemed to sum up the feelings of many people at the meeting.

“We want to see some movement in the forest, we want to see that our infrastructure and jobs are protected. These are all important issues to our membership.”

A local environmentalist also addressed the board and said he felt confident that the conservation community would support a plan to offer up to 23-million board feet annually, budget permitting.

4th District Supervisor Mark Thornton will travel to Washington, DC on March 8th to represent Tuolumne County and make inquiries regarding speeding up the timber harvest process in Stanislaus National Forest.