Frazier Mountain Forest Thinning Project Planned

30-Day ‘Objection Period’ Begins

By Patric Hedlund

An “objection period” clock has begun tickng for a forest thinning project on Frazier Mountain. The public has 30 days from February 3 to object to a plan by Los Padres National Forest officials to thin trees and burn fuels on 2,386 acres of a 2,850-acre swath of Frazier Mountain forest. [The official legal notice can be found on page 21 of this newspaper.]

In the fall of 2006 an estimated 85 percent of the residents of the Mountain Communities evacuated families, pets and livestock as the Day fire burned more than 162,000 acres of Los Padres National Forest between Pyramid Lake and Lockwood Valley. The flames threatened to continue into the Pine Mountain community and Lake of the Woods before they were brought under control just a ridge away.

The Mt. Pinos Communities Fire Safe Council was involved that same year in commissioning the Mount Pinos “Communities Wildfire Protection Plan” (CWPP) to reduce fire hazards and to outline forest treatment plans for the entire Mt. Pinos District region of the Los Padres National Forest. All the hamlets of the Mountain Communities are surrounded by this forest. Portions of the plan have been implemented near Frazier Park, Lake of the Woods and the Pine Mountain community. The current notice is about a continuation of the CWPP.

In addition to reducing fire hazard risk, the goal for the Frazier Mountain portion of the project is “to maintain health of mature conifer stands and existing conifer plantations and protect facilities from wildfire, including high value recreation areas, campgrounds, trail heads, special-use dwellings and the Mt. Pinos Ranger District building and warehouse complex,” the notice says.

Gregory Thompson, forester for the Los Padres National Forest, said bark beetle infestations and other pests and diseases that threaten the health of the forest are lessened when the forest is thinned. But those who are monitoring the results of the mastication project just west of Pine Mountain’s boundaries have questioned when the forest might start being visibly healthier.

Thompson said it takes two to three years for Jeffrey pines in this kind of arid climate to fully respond. The major thinning operation in that area took place about two years ago.

“We lose some trees but we save the forest,” he said.

A 200-page Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Frazier Mountain project is available for review. Jeff Kuyper, director of Los Padres Forest Watch, whose objections to earlier parts of the CWPP have resulted in modifications, objects to the fact that there is no ability for the public to petition for an extension of the review period.

“It is nearly impossible to review the 200-page EA, the agency’s supporting documentation, visit the project site to verify conditions on the ground, consult with our experts and prepare meaningful comments in thirty days. But under current Forest Service regulations, that’s all that the Forest Service is required to provide,” Kuyper said.

Los Padres Forest Watch submitted 16-pages of scoping comments to the first version of the Frazier Mountain project.

That first plan proposed to allow commercial logging on Frazier Mountain, taking out older trees as well as understory growth and younger trees.

In response to Kuyper’s letter and other factors, Forester Thompson said, a decision was made by District Ranger Erik Van Walden to limit the thinning program to removal of trees with trunk sizes of a 10-inch diameter or less. The ranger also decided to remove the commercial logging section of the program.

The completed EA and a cover letter describing the preferred alternative plan and objection requirements in more detail are posted on the Los Padres National Forest website. To request a paper copy of the EA to be mailed to you or if you would like additional information about this project, contact Forester Gregory Thompson at (661) 245-3731.

This is part of the February 03, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.