Finding consensus on the Panther Fuels Reduction and Forest Health Project on the Eldorado National Forest’s Amador Ranger District has continued to elude the diverse members of the Amador-Calaveras Consensus Group, our local forest collaborative organization. As we reported in the Spring 2017 Focus,
the proposed 5,400-acre project is located in Amador County between Panther Creek Road and Ellis Road south of Highway 88, within the North Fork Mokelumne River watershed.
Viewed from above, the project area is essentially an island of high-quality, old-growth trees of the type preferred by wildlife that thrive in “late seral-stage” habitat, including the California Spotted Owl. The owl population in this area is a particularly successful one likely due to the high-quality habitat.
The project is surrounded on the west, north, and east by Sierra Pacific Industries’ clearcuts. On the south, it’s bordered by the footprint of the 2004 Power Fire, which burned a great deal of late seral-stage habitat in the river canyon.
Since we last reported on this project, the Amador Ranger District released its environmental assessment and draft decision for the project. Eldorado National Forest Supervisor Laurence Crabtree selected the ranger district’s proposed action even though it was not supported by all of the ACCG members. (The group makes decisions based on the consensus of its members.)
The Panther project would allow logging of trees up to 30 inches in diameter within a number of California Spotted Owl “protected activity centers,” even though Spotted Owls are particularly sensitive to disturbances such as logging and reducing canopy cover. Given the proximity of industrial timber activities and loss of habitat on all sides of this project area, we believe it is particularly important to reduce the potential to harm or displace these owls while still working to make the forest more resilient to fire and other disturbance.
Our Watershed Conservation Associate Reuben Childress and staff from our partner organization, Sierra Forest Legacy, developed and submitted a letter objecting to the draft decision. As a result, Reuben and Forest Legacy staff recently participated in an objection meeting with Deputy Regional Forester Barnie Gyant, Crabtree, Amador District Ranger Rick Hopson, and additional Forest Service district staff. Also participating were two other objecting organizations, the John Muir Project and Center for Biological Diversity.
Reuben advocated for a solution that would address our concerns while also addressing the national forest’s goals.
“I think the discussion went really well,” he said. “The only change would be a change in the diameter of trees allowed to be removed in a very small number of acres around the most-productive owl territories. Trees up to 18 inches in diameter, smaller trees, and brush would be removed -- as opposed to trees up to 30 inches in diameter -- and only within two units on the large project. Sierra Pacific Industries is looking for small-diameter trees right now, so this would fit market demands while still reducing fire risk.”
Our compromise proposal would allow creation of strategic fuel breaks proposed along ridge lines, reduce fuel loads, and only reduce the volume of timber coming off the project by a small amount. Most important, it will ensure reduced modification of the existing, high-quality habitat for the resident population of California Spotted Owls.
The Foothill Conservancy participates in the ACCG to ensure that work done in our local forest results in social, economic, and environmental benefits. If you would like to learn more about our work with the ACCG, or more about the Panther Project, send Reuben an e-mail or give him a call at 209-223-3508.