Forest Service Contests Scope of SEZs While Responding to Regional Board Concerns

As already reported, in response to a request from the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Forest Service moved several slash piles placed in wetlands in violation of federal and state law.  Even as it did so, agency personnel continued to deny that the piles were improperly placed in Stream Environment Zones (or SEZs).  This e-mail (dated Oct. 20, 2014) from Forest Service employee Brian Garrett to Regional Board staff indicates that the areas where the slash piles were placed do not meet the definition of SEZs.

The determination what areas qualify as SEZs is made on the basis of the Regional Board's Basin Plan. It provides that SEZs are generally synonymous with wetlands and riparian areas, and that any one of the following key indicators are sufficient to establish that an areas is an SEZ:
  • evidence of surface water flow
  • primary riparian vegetation
  • near surface groundwater
  • lakes or ponds
  • beach soils
  • soils classified as Elmira loamy coarse sand or marsh
The Basin Plan goes on to indicate that SEZs include unconfined ephemeral or intermittent streams.  Below are definitions of certain key terms used in the Basin Plan.

The fact that seasonal (i.e., intermittent and ephemeral) waters fall within the definition of SEZs together with photographic documentation of the slash piles in such waters was sufficient to lead the Regional Board to act. Unfortunately, Mr. Garrett's e-mail to Regional Board staff suggests that the Forest Service is likely to continue to turn a blind eye to the enviornmental impacts of its activities.


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