Forest Service decides future of burned trees

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service is expected to unveil its plan Wednesday for what to do with millions of trees killed one year ago in a massive California wildfire.

Backers of logging favor sending the trees to sawmills, which they say will generate money so the Forest Service can replant the forest. Taking out dead trees will also allow the public to use the land, they say, and eliminate a new fire hazard caused by the falling trees. Timber industry officials say they have about two years from the fire before the trees disintegrate and lose their value.

Environmentalists contend snag forests provide a rich habitat for dwindling birds, such as the spotted owls and black-backed woodpeckers. There is no science proving the trees will pose a fire hazard, say environmentalists, who point to seedlings as a sign that natural recovery has begun.

The Rim Fire started Aug. 17, 2013, and burned more than 400 square miles of the Stanislaus National Forest, Yosemite National Park's backcountry and private timber land. It is the largest wildfire in recorded history to sweep through California's Sierra Nevada mountains and the state's third largest wildfire. Any plans for logging won't include Yosemite.

After releasing the draft plan on Wednesday, Susan Skalski, supervisor of the Stanislaus National Forest, is expected to sign it on Thursday, making it final.

Federal prosecutors accuse bow hunter Keith Matthew Emerald, 32, of starting the massive blaze, when he lost control of an illegal campfire and had to be rescued by helicopter. A grand jury on Aug. 7 returned a four-count indictment against Emerald, who lives in the foothills community of Columbia. The fire destroyed 11 homes and cost more than $125 million to fight.

Emerald, who has pleaded not guilty, was released from jail after posting a $60,000 bond.