July 22, 2008

Supervisors to Vote on Forest Unit

By Lauren McSherry

A team from the San Bernardino County Museum could soon be roaming the local mountains as part of an effort to track endangered species.

The study, a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, would be used to help keep wildfires at bay while protecting critical habitat in San Bernardino National Forest, said Robert McKernan, museum director.

The county Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote today on allocating $430,000 for the study. The mountain yellow-legged frog, southwest arroyo toad and southwest willow flycatcher are a few of the animals that would be studied, McKernan said. The six- to eight- member team would be lead by the museum's wildlife biologist, McKernan said. Ultimately, the study would help forest managers identify areas where firebreaks can be cut or where the forest can be thinned without threatening endangered species, McKernan said.

David Wert, the county's spokesman, said the museum often contracts with other agencies to assist with studies.

More than 100 years of fire suppression in the forest combined with a rampant bark-beetle infestation have made the San Bernardino Mountains susceptible to a "catastrophic fire," according to the Big Bear Valley Community Wildfire Plan. About 100,000 people live in the boundaries of the San Bernardino National Forest, according to the plan. And nearly 6 million people visit each year. Wildfires remain an ever-present danger, as shown last October, when blazes destroyed more than 500 houses.

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