Visalia/Tulare · Wildfires

Tulare Co. knocks Feds’ clampdown on wildfire efforts in Sierra forest

A push by Federal wildlife officials to dedicate more than a half-million acres of the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, stretching six California counties, as protected habitat is drawing sharp resistance from Tulare County officials.

Tuesday, Tulare County lawmakers voted to oppose a push by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to declare a swath of the mountain range from Tuolumne to Tulare County as protected habitat for the southern Sierra Nevada Fisher.

In a letter approved by the Board of Supervisors, Tulare County officials said the declaration “would have a direct negative impact to the County and state’s economy, while not addressing the solution to the real cause…” of habitat loss for the Fisher.

The report prepared by Fish and Wildlife called for preservation of “high-quality denning habitats found in intermixed hardwood and softwood forests,” the letter from Tulare County reads.

These and other key conditions for the Fisher’s conservation are “found almost exclusively in the various hiking trails and campgrounds near Tulare County’s Mountain communities.”

Tulare County officials argue that the solutions lie in a different tactic other than limiting access and control to manage forests in the name of potentially misguided species conservation.

“The report identifies nursing dens to be threatened by severe wild fires caused by decades of wildfire suppression in the historical absence of beneficial low-severity forest fires,” Tulare officials note.

“Tulare County has been a strong advocate for forest management strategies.”

Fisher as the new Delta Smelt?

The Fisher, a weasel-like creature, has become the focal point of environmental advocates to clamp down on wildfire protection efforts within the southern portion of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, prompting outrage from residents in the foothills and lawmakers reckoning with back-to-back years of historic wildfires in the region.

Earlier this year, three environmental advocate groups filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service seeking to enjoin the agency from engaging in pre-approved logging activities around the scar of the 2020 Creek Fire.

They argued that the logging practices would eliminate habitat for the regional subspecies of Pacific Fisher, whose population was estimated at 500 in 2011 by Federal officials.

The two principal agencies responsible for wildfire prevention and environmental protection issues relative to the operations in the Sierra foothills, the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and Forest Service, conducted environmental assessments prior to engaging in activity in the area.

The Forest Service also cancelled a number of proposed operations that were tied up in litigation because they were deemed moot – the Creek and SQF Complex fires had burned down the range of trees set for removal the year prior.

Ultimately, Fresno-based Federal judge Dale A. Drozd rejected the arguments from environmentalists, finding that Federal officials followed the law and was not required to study the minimum viable population of the Fisher species to enable wildfire prevention work.

He found that data about the species, alleged by environmentalists to be in the possession of Federal officials, didn’t exist.

Drozd also sided with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials’ determination that logging practices would have long-term benefits for the fisher population despite short-term impact.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.