By Deb Murphy
Inyo County planner Cathreen Richards delivered what must have seemed like her thousandth presentation on Inyo National Forest’s plan revision process at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting.
This presentation focused on the formal comments by the Board on the INF’s Environmental Impact Study and Draft Forest Plan to be submitted by the August 25 comment deadline.
The Supervisors weighed in on some minor wording changes and boundary adjustments to recommended Wilderness Area designations, indicated their support for the Preferred Alternative B but the more aggressive fuel reductions under the Fire Management section in Plan D.
Then they agreed to support a request to extend the comment period by 45 days, pushing back the end of this process by the same.
Following public comment and discussion of unauthorized roads in recommended Wilderness Areas, the Board agreed to request the boundary of the recommended South Sierra Wilderness be moved up to the 6,000-foot line and adding the Deep Springs North Wilderness Area recommended in Plan C to make up for land lost in the boundary adjustment.
Plan B recommended 37,029 acres of new Wilderness designations; Plan D proposed 315,531 acres.
The Supervisors and public agreed on the more aggressive fuel reduction proposed in Alternative D. The overall Fire Management Plan calls for mechanical treatment and prescribed burns to reduce fuels plus managing lightning-strike fires that don’t threaten life or property.
The intense, devastating Sierra Nevada fires over the last three or four years have been exacerbated by drought, overcrowding and the bark beetle as well as 100 years of fire suppression rather than letting fire do its job of maintaining a healthy forest ecosystem.
Under Alternative B, the Forest Service anticipates treating between 89 and 99,000 aces per decade using a combination of the three strategies; Plan D would treat from 138 to 149,000 acres per decade.
The only question was the funding availability for the more aggressive approach. “Lack of funds shouldn’t impact good planning,” said Supervisor Rick Pucci. “You need to focus on the ‘why,’ not the ‘how’.”
Public comments at the meeting focused on the advantages of Wilderness and species protection. Linda and Howard Arcularias addressed negative impacts to grazing. While grazing is a permitted use in Wilderness Areas, protected habitat has removed grazing in some areas.
One of the most convincing arguments for Wilderness came from Dan Connor, who called the Eastern Sierra the capital of peace and quiet. In terms of economic development and tourism, Connor said “you don’t have to build it, just protect it and they will come.”
He also compared the Eastern Sierra experience to that in the San Bernardino Mountains, the antithesis of peace and quiet.