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From September 4, 2001

Herbicide Use in Tahoe National Forest Blocked

According to a Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CAT) media release, a federal judge in Sacramento has barred the Forest Service from using herbicides to kill brush and grasses on 10,900 acres in the Tahoe National Forest. Judge Lawrence Karleton said the Forest Service cannot proceed with the plan until it assesses how use of the herbicides would affect the spread of noxious weeds, considers new information concerning the effects of herbicide on the health of humans and wildlife and assesses whether herbicides are even needed.

The Forest Service had planned to use the herbicides to kill brush around pine seedlings planted in the 44,000 acres that burned in the Cottonwood Fire in 1994. The area contains the largest high- elevation wetlands in the Sierra Nevada and includes sensitive habitat for a number of rare and threatened animals.

Under the judge's ruling, the Forest Service must evaluate the herbicides' potential to encourage the spread of noxious weeds, particularly cheatgrass, the most dangerous fuel for early-season fires. "Studies show that what grows back after forest herbicides are sprayed often creates a situation far worse than what was there before," said Patty Clary of the lead plaintiff group Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs). Clary added that cheatgrass, which is rapidly advancing through the Sierras, ups fire danger in forest areas because it is a thick grass that dries up before native grasses do. "The fire season can begin six weeks earlier than it did historically once cheatgrass gets established by disturbances such as the use of herbicides," said Clary.

CATs was joined in the lawsuit by Forest Issues Group and the California Indian Basketweavers Association. All three public interest organizations had studied and critiqued the plan through almost four years of its development. "Though we told them from the beginning that this plan wasn't needed, the Forest Service spent an enormous sum developing and defending their plan while ignoring the reasoned input of an interested public" said Don Jacobson of the Forest Issues Group.

The Forest Service hopes to address the judge's concerns in the next eight to ten months.

Sam Wilbanks is District Ranger for Sierraville Ranger District, Tahoe National Forest and can be reached at 530-994-3401. For quotes from Wilbanks and U.S. Attorney Edmund Brennan, click here to read the full story in the Sacramento Bee. For more information you can visit CAT's website at http://www.alternatives2toxics.org/.