Op-Ed

Op-Ed

Op-Ed on OPINION page: 'Stop plan to chop down 15,228 conifers'

web Alasdair Coyne
By Alasdair Coyne
Los Padres National Forest is proposing to remove 15,228 mixed conifer trees along the ridge of Pine Mountain and Reyes Peak, east of the summit of Highway 33 north of Ojai.  The largest of these targeted 12-inch to 24-inch-diameter trees are likely old-growth conifers.
Forest planners describe this proposed project as necessary to protect the oldest trees in the 423-acre project area from devastating wildfires. But their analysis is flawed in a number of critical ways.
First, the project proposal classifies the area as burning every 35 years or less.
This is patently false. 
Many locals, myself included, have been camping and hiking along the Pine Mountain/Reyes Peak ridgeline for 35 years or more, and there have 
been no major fires there over that time. 
The abundance of giant fallen tree trunks all across the landscape is further proof of this.  These dry trunks would be burned up or at least show fire scars if the area burned as frequently as every 35 years.
Recent analysis by Sam Sweet, professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, looked for fire scarring in around 40 of these fallen tree trunks, all of them up to 30 inches in diameter. The tree rings examined showed zero evidence of fire scarring. 

 

What is more, none of the fallen trees had fewer than 300 annual growth rings, and some had up to 740. There was some evidence of lightning fires, but these only affected very small areas, less than an acre.
This demonstrates two things — that the area’s natural fire history has actually been insignificant for many hundreds of years, and that the larger 24-inch-diameter conifers proposed by Los Padres National Forest planners for removal are actually old-growth trees.
Second, Los Padres National Forest planners are basing their tree-removal proposal on very skimpy data from small-scale tree counts dating from the 1930s. This evidence is gathered from four tiny sample plots, each only 0.2 acres in size. Only one of these one-fifth-acre sites is even within the project area, and none of the four sites can be precisely located today. 
There is no evidence as to how representative these tiny sites were of the general tree density across the Pine Mountain landscape 90 years ago. It also remains to be established whether these conifers can actually grow to 24 inches in diameter in 90 years, in that harsh high-elevation environment.
The planners’ conclusion from these tiny sample sites is that the current quantity of conifers in the area is far too dense and, therefore, their proposed massive tree-removal proposal is needed to protect the even larger trees in the area.
Their proposal calls for the removal of an average of 36 conifers per acre, all between 12 inches and 24 inches in diameter, over the 423-acre project site. That’s where the total of 15,228 trees comes from.  A  Los Padres National Forest planner said during an online Q&A session on July 20 that this “does seem like a lot.” He is correct.  
The tree removal would entail a devastating disruption of the forest ecosystem.  How can 36 large trees per acre be removed across 423 acres without lasting damage to the landscape?  It would also require several thousand round trips by logging trucks on the one-lane Pine Mountain access road over a number of years.

  

Submit comments by Aug. 14

The time for public comments on the Reyes Peak project has been extended through Aug. 14.
I urge you to submit your personal comments, including your own memories and experience of visiting the beautiful co- nifer forest along the ridge line there. You may also mention any of the information in this article — a few sentences will be fine.
In particular, your comments should ask that the trees targeted for removal must be accurately dated to determine their real age.
Your personal emailed comments are the single most effective way to influence the future of this logging proposal.
Los Padres National Forest’s Reyes Peak project information can be found at this site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/lpnf/
You can navigate from Land/ Resource Management to the Project page, and thus to the Reyes Peak Forest Health and Fuels Reduction link.
If you cannot access this site, you may email your comments directly to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
Title your email: “comments on Reyes Peak project.”
— Alasdair Coyne of Upper Ojai is conservation director of Keep Sespe Wild.