Berkeley parks

Yosemite sued for logging, lawsuit by CA conservation group

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Logging trucks driving up Big Oak Flat Road from Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, June 2022.

Special for the bee

Yosemite National Park has a major logging project underway that a California conservation group is asking a federal judge to stop.

The project summary says trees up to 20 inches in diameter could be felled in Yosemite on about 2,000 acres and 40 miles of park roads and trails.

“In some places, the logging they’re doing in Yosemite Valley is so intensive that it’s actually clearcutting,” said conservationist Chad Hanson, co-founder and director of the john muir project. “They’re actually clear-cutting the forest – mature and old-growth forest – in Yosemite Valley.”

The John Muir Project is part of the Berkeley-based nonprofit Earth Island Institute who filed the federal lawsuit Monday in the Fresno Division of the U.S. District Court. He appoints Yosemite Superintendent Cicely Muldoon in her official capacity, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Earth Island Institute staff first became aware around May 11 that logging for this project was already underway. Hanson said tens of thousands of trees could be felled across Yosemite.

The lawsuit states that Yosemite violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Actwhich governs how federal agencies develop and issue regulations, in addition to failing to comply its mission and purposeto conserve the landscape in a way that will leave it “untouched for the enjoyment of future generations”.

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Logs in Yosemite Valley in May 2022. Special for the bee

Yosemite failed to conduct proper environmental analysis, the complaint alleges, nor did it share with the public certain documents the national park used to make decisions.

Spokespersons for Yosemite and the National Park Service did not respond to questions from The Bee.

Yosemite describes the project on its website as a biomass removal and thinning project to protect wildlife habitat, communities, and giant sequoias – although many of the proposed tree removals are outdoors, where giant sequoias are known to grow in Yosemite.

“Immediate actions are needed to protect these areas from high intensity fires,” the draft says. “Objectives are achieved by thinning conifers less than 20 inches in diameter, retaining dead trees, and removing dead and downed trees after the 2012-2016 drought.”

It comes in the middle of a busy year for Yosemitewith many major projects underway. Reservations are currently required to enter Yosemite during peak hours due to construction and a temporary reduction in parking.

Connect in a national park? “I am deeply worried”

Hanson said some of the downed trees are sent to commercial sawmills, whereas in the past, dangerous trees downed in Yosemite were left on the ground to biodegrade as part of the ecosystem.

“It’s a massive change from that,” Hanson said, “and they didn’t even tell anyone they were doing it.”

It is unclear where the revenue from the logs goes. The project summary states that they will be transported “to the nearest CHP or other biomass processing plant” or “stacked and burned”, and that “any value from the extraction of biomass will offset project costs and will not support the park. operations. »

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Fire after cutting trees in Yosemite Valley, June 2022. DOUG BEVINGTON Special for the bee

Hanson worries about the precedent this project could set. He has never heard of a similar project in another national park.

“I’m deeply concerned,” Hanson said, “because if Yosemite National Park can start a large-scale commercial logging program, it can happen in any national park in the country.”

Hanson called the actions the most “blatant” of those currently occurring in Yosemite Valley.

In addition to Yosemite Valley, the project includes tree removal along Wawona Road (Highway 41 outside of Yosemite), Big Oak Flat and Tioga Roads (Highway 120 outside of the park) and in Yosemite’s Merced and Tuolumne giant sequoia groves.

Yosemite uses the word “thinning,” not logging, in its project description. Project details, listed in Yosemite Categorical Exclusion Formgives more insight into what this thinning means, referring to the use of “heavy equipment, chainsaws and other tools used in thinning operations”, as well as bulldozers and fire trucks.

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Logging machines felling trees in Yosemite Valley, June 2022. DOUG BEVINGTON Special for the bee

Details of the lawsuit against Yosemite National Park

Earth Island Institute is expected to file on Wednesday for a preliminary injunction that could prevent more trees from being cut down while the case is decided.

Among Yosemite’s unpublished documents: The lawsuit says the national park did not share the environmental impact statement of a 2004 fire management plan, which Yosemite refers to in his project summary to justify his actions.

“There are a lot of issues here about public transparency,” said lawyer Thomas Buchele of the Earthrise Law Centerrepresenting Earth Island Institute in this matter.

Buchele did not share an estimate on when the court might make a final decision in the case. There were no scheduled court dates earlier this week.

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More downed trees in Yosemite Valley. Special for the bee

Instead of conducting a new environmental impact statement or environmental assessment, the lawsuit says, Yosemite filed a less thorough categorical exclusion form, which is largely based on older studies. Earth Island Institute said the document was inadequate and at odds with key points from previous plans, including that Yosemite can now fell trees up to 20 inches in diameter, instead of those up to 12 inches in diameter.

“The Tiered Actions cannot ‘deviate’ from the Tiered Document – it is the opposite of what NEPA envisions,” the lawsuit states.

Yosemite’s actions are particularly “arbitrary and capricious” given that the NPS itself said the 2004 fire management plan is “outdated and no longer accurately reflects or responds to conditions on the ground,” indicates the trial.

Concerns about wildfires and endangered animals

Among the concerns is how this project will affect endangered and threatened wildlife in the Yosemite area – and the search for them – including the Pacific fisherman, black-backed woodpecker, owl great gray and spotted owl.

Yosemite notes that fishermen and Lapland owls could be present in the project area and that they could suffer “minor” impacts, but “much smaller than those posed by a catastrophic fire, which could result from inaction” .

Hanson opposes this point and says Yosemite needs to consider other scientific studies it’s like that logging often increases the danger of wildfire.

In a statement to the court, Hanson said Yosemite should not rely on a 2004 fire management plan. wildfires, and the 2004-era assumptions and claims on which the project is based are now considered to be heavily contested, highly controversial, or widely discredited,” he continued.

Earth Island Institute and a few other California conservation groups have also an ongoing trial before a federal judge in Fresno regarding logging projects in National Forests that could harm the federally endangered Southern Pacific Angler population of the Sierra Nevada, a tree-dwelling mammal in the weasel family. In January, the United States Court of Appeals ordered that the case be sent back to the United States District Court for further consideration.

Hanson said many watchdog organizations, including his own, have focused on national forests, thinking they don’t need to worry about national parks, but this new logging project has changed. that. This logging project adds to many other trees felled in Yosemite last year, he added.

“What they’ve done so far is devastating,” Hanson said, “and what they’re proposing to do, in terms of additional logging, would be far more devastating.”

This story was originally published June 14, 2022 7:26 p.m.

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Carmen Kohlruss is a columnist and reporter for The Fresno Bee. His stories have won Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, as well as numerous prestigious awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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