FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — U.S. Forest Service officials say they tried to balance competing interests in a plan that will allow loggers to remove trees killed in a massive Central California wildfire last year.
Environmentalists, however, have called it a travesty.
The highly awaited decision released Wednesday will allow logging on 52 square miles of forests blackened in the Rim Fire, which burned 400 square miles of the Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park backcountry and private timber land.
It came amid a standoff between environmentalists and supporters of the timber industry over what to do with the trees that died in the fire. The blaze also destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.
Susan Skalski, supervisor of Stanislaus National Forest, said in the plan that she considered the need to reduce future fires while protecting the environment and wildlife. She considered input from the public, environmental groups and the timber industry and said it was impossible for her to devise a perfect recovery plan.
"I did my best to balance all these important goals, with the intent of providing a decision that best serves the public interest," she said. "I realize that my decision will not please every member of the public."
Under the proposal, about 24 square miles of the burned mountain range will be logged, as well as an additional 28 square miles along roads where trees threaten to fall and hurt people.
An estimated 210 million board feet will be harvested, enough to build about 14,000 homes. The first round of bids open next week, officials said.
Skalski said in a conference call with reporters on Thursday that harvesting trees should begin this fall. A Forest Service veteran of 34 years, she said post-fire logging is common practice, and under President Obama the policy is no different from past administrations.
"The driver is always what's best for the land," she said. "Sometimes you remove trees, and sometimes you just leave them."
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