EPIC deserves credit ("EPIC Changes," Aug. 18) for prodding government agencies and timber companies into improving forestry practices over the last four decades. However, we should all avoid reflexively opposing thinning projects. I believe that the most serious threat to many watersheds is excessive fuel loading on millions of acres of timberland. This has resulted from the even-age stand management and aggressive fire suppression practices that prevailed during most of the 20th century. These excessively dense forests will burn someday, likely with high intensity and severity and little fire-resilience. Thus, almost all of the vegetation will die, soils will get baked into dust, and soil loss will increase dramatically. The resulting erosion will adversely affect water quality, destroy fish-rearing habitat, impair terrestrial habitat, reduce water absorption, increase flooding, undo carbon sequestration, and force a restart of timber production.
In watersheds where salmon and steelhead populations are already teetering on extirpation, their biggest threat is the volatile mixture of overgrown forests and changing climate. People who care about fish should advocate for more and better thinning projects rather than opposing them. While concerns about cutting big trees are understandable, I know that if left alone, the existing patchwork of regrown clear-cuts will burn and become an even more monotone landscape of even-aged trees, or, turn into brush. Thus, previously logged vegetation-choked forests must be thinned to reduce the number of trees per acre. If these adolescent forests are properly coached through their Lord-of-the-Flies phase, the remaining trees will grow faster and healthier with less risk of catastrophic fire. Forestry's devils are in its details, but a properly thinned forest will become more fire-resilient, provide better wildlife habitat, turn more carbon dioxide into wood, cost less to manage, and best support our vulnerable watersheds and fisheries. In the past, I viewed logging as one of the biggest potential threats to healthy streams and fisheries. Now, after more than 18 years as an environmental engineer focused on water quality, it feels a little awkward that I see a small army of chainsaw wielders as some watersheds' only saviors.
Brad Job, Arcata
I enjoyed reading the article, "EPIC Changes" (Aug. 18). I do have a few things I'd like to add to an "EPIC" perspective, though. It can't be emphasized enough how much EPIC's actions, often at great hardship and expense, have improved the way operations on private lands are conducted. There are, of course, continuing problems, such as no real sustained yield of high quality timber products - and haphazard progress toward real recovery of forests, fisheries and wildlife. Inter-agency strife, complexities and lack of will are all too common.
There are now, however, information requirements about forest conditions and wildlife that were ignored before EPIC went to bat for old growth, the marbled murrelet and other species. CalFire and others involved in forestry have to take the California Environmental Quality Act and other requirements seriously, which certainly wasn't the case during the "transitional" decades after the Forest Practice Act was passed in 1973.
EPIC didn't bring this change by itself, but it provided real leadership and positive examples of what needed to be done.
EPIC is about Environmental Protection Information, and it continues to empower people looking for guidance for their property, their neighborhood or their region. EPIC maintains Timber Harvest Plan reviews and also keeps track of the Forest Practice Rules, the Board of Forestry, and related legislation, regulation and agencies. One of my missions as an EPIC contractor is to see that the 1985 Appeals Court decision in EPIC v. Johnson is actually implemented. There have been some "paperwork" improvements, but evaluating and responding to cumulative effects remains a huge problem. Also, while there is now an extensive process for protection of archaeological sites, real consultation with California Indians and adequate protection of the Native American Cultural Heritage remain significant issues that were also part of the appeals court decision.
EPIC has a regional and statewide role solidly built on accomplishments in Northern Mendocino and Southern Humboldt counties. I wasn't a "founder," but I was there in 1976 along with dozens of others. EPIC was inspirational then and is inspirational now.
Richard Gienger, Whitethorn