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Speak Up for the Forest

The smallest national forest in California is also the most pressed, with three rapidly growing counties nipping at its mountain flanks. Like its bigger siblings, Cleveland National Forest is a “Land of Many Uses,” but considering how little land must serve dense populations on all sides, its best uses are wilderness preservation and environmentally friendly recreation.

In its 15-year draft management plan for Southern California’s national forests, the U.S. Forest Service has drawn up six options for the Cleveland. Two of them, Alternatives 3 and 6, adequately protect the oasis of fragrant pine and sage from proposals to blast tunnels through the mountains, carve highways into the wilderness, string high-voltage utility lines for 28 miles and push water up the eastern hillside from Lake Elsinore for a profitable power project.

The Forest Service, though, has tentatively conferred “preferred” status on Alternative 2, which would allow more intensive uses, including those listed above. That won’t work for a forest this size, at the juncture of Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties, where the combined populations top 7.5 million and are growing.

Unless enough people protest, the preferred plan will be the default.

Alternative 2 and the government’s preferred options for the other three national forests in the region would also dramatically increase off-roading, with 70,000 more acres set aside for such use, much of it in environmentally delicate areas. The Forest Service defends the proposed increase, saying it would protect the land by keeping vehicles on designated trails. That is no more than a hope. In fact, one possibility in this plan is for the Forest Service to legalize trails carved out illegally by off-road vehicles, providing reinforcement for more incursions. The Forest Service concedes that the vehicles increase the risk of wildfire and that it lacks the manpower to police them now, let alone on tens of thousands more acres.

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Agency spokesmen stress that these are only drafts and vow to take public comments seriously. At a later point, they could switch to another alternative or modify any of the existing options, with the regional forester making the final decision. Southern California residents have only themselves to blame if they don’t let government know what they want in their diminishing forests.

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To Take Action: The forest plan website, www.fs.fed.us/r5/scfpr/, has links to view the draft plans, find out about public meetings and send comments electronically. Public comments may also be mailed to Southern California Forest Plan Revisions, USDA Forest Service Content Analysis Center, P.O. Box 22777, Salt Lake City, Utah 84122.


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