RENO, Nev. - A federal logging plan to ease fire threats in the Sierra Nevada northwest of Lake Tahoe has been identified by a national environmental group as one of the 12 worst timber sales in the nation.
The Grouse timber sale in the Tahoe National Forest would damage more than 2,000 acres of habitat for the California spotted owl and other imperiled species, leaders of the American Lands Alliance said Monday.
The logging also is more likely to increase fire threats than reduce them, according to a forest protection activist who filed an unsuccessful appeal to block the logging.
Forest Service officials disagreed and said thinning overstocked stands is necessary to reduce the threat of ''catastrophic fires.''
The American Lands Alliance, a non-profit conservation group based in Washington D.C., plans rallies across the nation Tuesday urging the Clinton administration to cancel the 12 targeted sales in 11 states.
''Subsidized timber sales on public lands continue to threaten invaluable old-growth, roadless areas, endangered species habitat, streamside areas and other special places that we enjoy and value,'' said Steve Holmer, campaign coordinator for American Lands in Washington D.C.
The Grouse sale is between Reno and Sacramento in the Grouse Lakes area along Grouse Ridge, about eight miles north of Interstate 80 northwest of Cisco Grove, Calif.
Environmentalists say it is one of the most popular national forest recreation spots in the northern Sierra. They appealed the timber sale earlier this year, but the Forest Service upheld the logging plans.
Opposition to the timber sale is ''fairly typical,'' said Steve Eubanks, Forest Service supervisor of the Tahoe National Forest based in Nevada City, Calif.
''Most projects on this forest are appealed or disputed by somebody. There's almost nothing we do that isn't opposed by someone or another,'' he said Monday.
The logging is scheduled to begin within the next year, although the Forest Service is conducting an additional review of potential cumulative impacts as a result of new logging planned on nearby private lands, Eubanks said.
Concerns have been raised partly because some of the area targeted for logging is near the Grouse Lakes roadless area, which has been proposed for federal wilderness designation, Eubanks said.
''But it is a very low intensity harvest operation - a thinning,'' he said.
''It's been a very sensitive project from the beginning and we think our folks did a good job of looking at the needs of the ecosystem.''
The intent is to help open up some of the overcrowded stands of trees and reduce the fuel building up in the form of dead and downed trees.
''Much of this area is really set up for catastrophic fire. Reducing that threat in itself protects the habitat in the long run,'' he said.
California regulations prohibit harvesting any trees larger than 30 inches in diameter and no trees approaching that size will be cut at Grouse Lakes, Eubanks said.
Nevertheless, Scott Schroder, a forest protection activist who wrote the appeal, said thinning about 2,100 acres in a 3,000-acre area will cause irreversible damage.
''We contend the timber sale will have a dramatic affect on old-growth dependent species,'' Schroder said, including the northern goshawk, great gray owl, Pacific fisher, American marten and the mountain yellow-legged frog.
''They may not be cutting old-growth trees that are over 30 inches, but the effects of the sale - when they remove the forest canopy and alter the entire structure of the forest - has more or less the same effect. It makes it into non-habitat,'' he said.
Furthermore, Schroder said the Forest Service intends to log in old stands of red fir, Douglas fir and ponderosa pine without removing the flammable branches and foliage left on the ground.
That will make the fire threat worse, he said.
''The whole sale was sold on the premise of reducing fire hazards,'' Schroder said.
''But I did some fire behavior simulations with a computer model and basically showed that the timber sale would increase the intensity of any fire that burned through the area,'' he said.
The other timber sales targeted by American Lands are:
East Side, Allegheny NF, Pa.
Snog, Umpqua NF, Ore.
Eagle Creek, Mt. Hood NF, Ore.
Riley Cove, Nantahala NF, N.C.
Bark Camp, Jefferson NF, Va.
Quartzite, Colville NF, Wash.
Jackson Mountain, San Juan NF, Colo.
Good Creek, Flathead, NF, Mont.
La Manga, Carson NF, N.M.
Interior Wetlands Project, Hiawatah NF, Mich.
Little East Creek, Superior NF, Minn.