By TERENCE CHEA
Associated Press Writer
The U.S. Forest Service withdrew a fire protection plan for Sequoia National Forest that allowed commercial logging, nearly a year after a judge ruled the blueprint violated federal law.
The Forest Service notified a federal court Tuesday it had withdrawn its strategy for responding to lightning fires in the 328,000-acre Central California forest, which includes Giant Sequoia National Monument.
The Forest Service said it would not issue a new fire-control plan, but stressed it would still protect forests.
“We are still going to be aggressively fighting fires, especially the ones that affect human life, property and valuable resources,” Forest Service Matt Mathes said Wednesday.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer, who sued to block the plan in March 2005 on the grounds that it didn´t undergo environmental review or incorporate public input, said the agency´s decision to scrap it leaves the forest vulnerable at the start of fire season, which runs from June to November.
“It is time for the Bush administration to step up and deliver comprehensive plans based on sound science and input from experts and the surrounding communities,” Lockyer said.
Sequoia trees, which grow up to 270 feet high and 30 feet wide and live for thousands of years, are only found in Central California.
The plan, first issued in 2002, allowed commercial logging in the monument. The Forest Service said the thinning of smaller trees was needed to protect the 38 sequoia groves.
The attorney general accused the agency of designing a plan that benefited timber companies while putting forests and surrounding communities at risk.
The Forest Service argued it didn´t need to conduct an environmental review because the plan was compiled from other documents that already provided such assessments.
In July, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer sided with Lockyer and ordered the agency to revise the plan.
The agency said its withdrawal rendered the lawsuit invalid.
Lockyer´s office was reviewing its legal options to see if it could compel the agency to develop a new plan, spokeswoman Teresa Schilling said.