The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday unveiled a salvage logging operation for more than 15,000 acres of trees burned in last summer's Rim Fire.
The plan -- which calls for removing an additional 17,706 acres of trees along non-public roads -- means the Forest Service will be selling more board feet of timber as a result of the Rim fire than the combined total sold last year in all of California's national forests.
Because the value of burned trees for logging deteriorates quickly, the plan was formed under emergency rules allowing salvage to begin immediately after approval, without going through an administrative appeal process.
"They sign the plan tomorrow and the chain saws can start like one minute later," said Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute.
Hanson is part of a vocal coalition of scientists and conservationists arguing against the plan. They contend that the mature areas of the forest, which burned the hottest, are regenerating. The so-called snag forests, they say, are now greening and filled with wildlife -- providing crucial Sierra habitat. They argue that recreation dollars from regenerated forests could outweigh logging dollars.
Supporters of the plan, including many local residents in the gateway community of Groveland, favor sending the trees to sawmills, creating logging jobs and generating money for the Forest Service to plant more trees.
The logging will be done through a variety of methods, including road-based and by helicopter. The Forest Service said no permanent roads would be constructed as a result.
The Rim fire began as a hunter's illegal campfire on Aug. 17, 2013. The biggest wildfire to hit the Sierra in more than a century of record-keeping, it burned for more than two months, spreading over 154,430 acres of chaparral and timberland in the Stanislaus National Forest, about 24,000 acres of private land and roughly 77,000 acres in neighboring Yosemite National Park.
The burned areas within Yosemite will not be logged. Susan Skalski, supervisor of the Stanislaus National Forest, is expected to sign the plan Thursday, making it final.