Letter to the Editor: Further maintenance efforts can preserve habitat, lives of forest wildlife
Thank you for the article “Public gets first look at Forest Service’s plan for Sierras” [by Anthony Ferranti, published Sept. 4, 2019] and for alerting the public to this important planning process for the Sierra and Sequoia national forests that Californians can weigh in on by September 26, 2019.
Certainly, fire management, wilderness recommendations and recreation are key aspects covered in the draft plans. However, there are other important issues impacted by the current planning effort that may be of interest to your readers.
These public lands contain vital habitat for imperiled species like the great gray owl, northern goshawk, fisher and the California spotted owl. To its credit, the U.S. Forest Service has put forward some positive recommendations to safeguard species’ habitat, including protected areas for northern goshawk and great gray owl, and for streamside areas, meadows and other special aquatic features. The draft forest plans have established five Conservation Watersheds—two in the Sierra National Forest and three in the Sequoia National Forest—to provide for high-quality water sources and the long-term persistence of at-risk species. We are fully supportive of these measures.
Additionally, the Forest Service has recognized the ecological importance of mixed-severity fire in shaping the landscape and allows for controlled or “prescribed” fire as well as naturally ignited wildfire to be managed for resources benefits, when and where conditions are right. It is critically important for fire to be restored to these forests, which historically evolved with fire but have become dangerously overgrown after more than a century of logging and aggressive fire suppression. Allowing for controlled fires now will help reduce forest fuels and lower smoke-related emissions, versus out-of-control wildfires in the future.
However, there are some areas where we think that the Forest Service needs to do more in its plans to protect at-risk species. For example, the agency should adopt standards that would meaningfully protect species from the ill effects of grazing, logging and other activities, particularly in meadows and aquatic features that are degraded, poorly functioning or that sustain imperiled species. In the same vein, the Forest Service should adopt strong standards and guidelines for logging to ensure that habitat quality will be maintained for species to survive and thrive.
We strongly urge the Forest Service to adopt Alternative C in order to protect at-risk species and areas of high biodiversity. This alternative also provides high quality meadow foraging habitat for great gray owls, science-backed recommendations for fishers, and protects more high-quality old-growth forest habitat for species like the California spotted owl, Pacific marten and northern goshawk.
We urge the Forest Service to put these standards for at-risk wildlife and rare habitats into place and we call on Californians to use their voice in this once-in-a-generation planning process to support the highest protection for these public lands that belong to all of us—for the many values these forests, meadows and watersheds provide—recreation, clean water and air, wild places and wildlife.
Senior California Representative
Defenders of Wildlife