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Mountain Thin Appealed
By Paul Boerger, Mt Shasta Herald & News
October 13, 2004

A coalition of groups and individuals have filed an appeal to a section of the US Forest Service's Mountain Thin project outside the city of Mount Shasta.

Appellants Kyle Haines of the Klamath Forest Alliance, Michelle Berditschevsky of the Mount Shasta Bioregional Ecology Center and Kathy Zavada are asking that alternative thinning methods be used in order to, among other concerns, protect habitats for the northern spotted owl, northern goshawk and furbearers, and protect recreational values by uneven tree spacing.

The appeal is not a court action, but is handled administratively by a USFS Forest Supervisor in Redding. The Forest Supervisor will assemble a team that will review the administrative record for Mountain Thin in the light of the appeal to determine if the Forest Plan was followed. The process does not include public comment because the administrative record is closed.

According to the Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact, Mountain Thin encompasses approximately 13,000 acres of National Forest adjacent to and east of Mount Shasta. The project's goal is to protect the city and surrounding areas from the effects of a catastrophic fire and improve forest health by thinning trees and cleaning up fuels from the forest floor.

"I'm proud to work for an agency that has an administrative appeals process," said Forest Service District Ranger Mike Hupp. "If we haven't followed the Forest Plan, I'm the first person who wants to know about it."

Hupp noted that, "It's not my place to comment on the appeal."

The appeal does not contest the entire Mountain Thin project, but questions "the need for thinning units in high-elevation stands far from the city limits."

The area the group is asking for protection encompasses approximately 2,400 acres and is three to four miles from the city.

The appeal asks that, "At a minimum, the Forest Service should modify the thinning prescription to reflect 'wildlife emphasis' and 'scenic/cultural emphasis' as these words are defined in the Shasta-Trinity Land Management Plan."

Specific requests include leaving a 60 percent crown canopy, leaving snag habitat, retaining large logs and downed woody debris for furbearers and increasing diameter tree trunk limits to protect late successional and/or old growth trees.

"Given the mountain's recognized cultural and scenic significance and its importance as wildlife habitat, prescriptions should be more specific," said Michelle Berditschevsky. "Even though the environmental assessment contains language saying those values will be protected, we do not see this reflected in the actual prescriptions."

Berditschevsky said the appellants are to meet with Mount Shasta District Ranger Mike Hupp in the near future to discuss a possible resolution of the appeal.

Dale Nova of the Mount Shasta Area Fire Safe Council says even though the area may be removed somewhat from the city, the area is "as worthy to protect as other areas."

"Given the wrong wind conditions, it is possible firebrands can be thrown into populated areas," Nova said. "The Oregon Fire near Weaverville in 2001 started well above the city and burned right into the town."

Nova said that in overstocked stands, "Sooner or later, nature will have its way."

"Many fires will keep spotting and spotting, and there goes your wildlife habitat," Nova said. "Overstocked stands are very susceptible to wildfire."

Nova said overstocked stands are also susceptible to insect infestation.

"A number of these areas have a history of beetle infestation," Nova said.

Nova said that forests "need a balance."

"Diversity is important," Nova said. "This project has the opportunity to insure diversity through healthier forest groups and stands of trees."

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