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Forest Service Proposes Expansive Post-Fire Tree Removal Project in California

Posted: 11/23/2021
By: Scott Harding

As West Coast boaters are all too familiar, the past two wildfire seasons have been a difficult one for our communities and for the rivers we love. Increasingly, fires are burning more intensely, are covering more ground than before, and are burning throughout a longer fire season. Land management agencies are often responding with vast closures of the lands and waters they manage, prohibiting public access sometimes for long periods of time after the fires are out.


American Whitewater has been tracking the intersection of whitewater and wildfires. In addition to advocating for the sensible re-opening of closed rivers, in 2021 we launched our Wildfire Information Map to help boaters determine what rivers and whitewater runs are currently affected by wildfire.


We're also working to encourage appropriate post-fire land management responses. 


In response to the large fires of 2020 and 2021, the US Forest Service has recently proposed the expansive Region 5 Post-Disturbance Hazardous Tree Management Project that will cut and remove fire-killed or damaged trees across nine national forests in California. While targeted at roads, the project may directly affect dozens of streams and rivers that flow beside roads, including along whitewater boating runs, by allowing tree cutting up to 300 feet away from roads. Indirectly, it may affect rivers through water quality impacts and habitat degradation from logging activities in sensitive, burned landscapes. Over 60% of California's whitewater runs are located on National Forest land, underscoring the significance of ensuring that post-fire management protect rivers rather than harms them.


American Whitewater submitted scoping comments to the Forest Service for this project and will review and comment on the forthcoming draft Environmental Assessment, expected this January. The Forest Service is expediting the project and says it may invoke emergency powers to shorten the environmental analysis process and public objection period.


There is no simple answer to the management of vast burned areas and while doing nothing isn't right, what is done must be done right. We will continue to track post-fire land management projects and encourage agencies to fully protect streams and rivers.


Photo: The North Fork Salmon River (California) burned in the 2021 River Complex. Roadside hazard tree removal is proposed for Sawyers Bar Road along the river, and tree cutting would take place within the river's Wild and Scenic corridor.






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