US NEWS ENV-BALDEAGLES 11 CC

A bald eagle snatches a bass from Trinity Lake in Shasta Trinity National Forest on Sept. 30, 2009, near Trinity Center, California.

With fires raging across the state, the USDA Forest Service closed all 20 million acres of California’s national forests to public access for two weeks on Tuesday.

In an announcement Monday, the Forest Service said the closure will extend through at least Sept. 17.

“I have made the difficult decision to temporarily close all (California) National Forests in order to better provide public and firefighter safety due to extreme fire conditions throughout the state, and strained firefighting resources throughout the country,” California’s regional forester, Jennifer M. Eberlien, said in a notice to employees obtained by The Sacramento Bee.

The closure started at noon Tuesday.

Those caught entering Forest Service lands — including developed campgrounds, hiking trails and recreation sites — typically face fines of up to $5,000 for violating closure orders.

The announcement extended a closure that was already in place for the Forest Service’s nine national forests in Northern California.

That closure began on Aug. 23 and was set to expire after the Labor Day weekend.

“I do not take this decision lightly but this is the best choice for public safety,” Eberlien said. “It is especially hard with the approaching Labor Day weekend, when so many people enjoy our national forests.”

Earlier this summer, two of California’s largest private forest companies — Sierra Pacific Industries, and W.M. Beaty & Associates — closed nearly 2 million acres of private timberlands to public access due to what the companies’ foresters described as unprecedented dry conditions.

Last year, during the worst fire season in modern history, the Forest Service took the then-unprecedented step in September of closing all of its California forests to the public for nearly two weeks.

Four Southern California national forests — the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino — stayed closed through early October.

The closure order only applies to Forest Service lands. State and national parks and private lands set their own rules.

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