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   Logging Bill Before Congress Is Called "Political Armageddon for Forests"


Logging Bill Before Congress Is Called “Political Armageddon for Forests”

Special to the Chronicle/Sentinel

The primary goal of any National Forest legislation should be restoration of more normal fire regimes. They should not be “a backdoor mechanism to increase the cut of merchantable timber on public lands,” says Duke University ecology professor Norman L. Christensen, Jr.
Forest protection groups are rallying against the Bush Administration's "Healthy Forest" logging plan, seeking to stop a legislative compromise that would dramatically increase logging on public lands. Conservation groups warned that the mid-term elections, in which the GOP gained control of the Senate and added representation in the House, could endanger national forests.

In October, the House Resources Committee passed Rep. McInnis' pro-logging legislation that would expedite logging projects on all public lands, including in forests far from communities, old growth forests, National Parks, and designated wilderness. According to its opponents, his bill, HR5319, would undermine environmental safeguards for public lands and block citizens’ efforts to protect the forests.

"Now that Bush is free to drive his agenda through Congress, Democrats shouldn't just roll over and let him deliver our public forests to the logging industry on a silver platter," said Andrew George, campaign coordinator for the National Forest Protection Alliance. "The proposal from the Bush Administration to 'streamline' environmental laws and exempt Forest Service projects from judicial review is a transparent attempt to increase commercial logging in our national forests—which has been this administration's stated intention since day one."

"Their mid-term gains could mean political Armageddon for National Forests," claimed Brian Vincent, California organizer for American Lands.

Under the bill, opponents say, the current environmental review process for all logging projects under the National Environmental Policy Act -- involving environmental analyses, an opportunity for the public to review and comment on agency decisions, and the ability of the public to appeal agency decisions -- would be functionally eviscerated.

The legislation would limit judge's review of logging projects unless the judges place these cases ahead of all other criminal and civil proceedings. It would also authorize new authority for the government to provide timber corporations with 10-year stewardship contracts for doing work on federal lands in return for the right to log large, fire-resistant trees, even though the Forest Service's own scientists have found that reducing brush and “fine fuels” immediately adjacent to homes and communities affords real fire protection.

In the East, a 4,000 acre commercial logging project called the Poplar Bluff/Fredrickton "fuel reduction" treatment in the Mark Twain National Forests is being cited as a harbinger of the "Healthy Forest" logging plan. Using the potential for wildfires as a pretext for logging, the US Forest Service exempted the entire project from required environmental laws because they said the normal process was "too slow."

Western environmentalists pointed to the "Storrie Timber Sale" in Lassen National Forest in the Sierra Nevada as an example of the flaws of the US Forest Service's logging agenda. With this logging project, the Forest Service proposed to virtually clearcut 3,500 acres of mature and old growth forest within an old growth reserve, claiming that nearly all of the trees were killed by a year 2000 fire. Environmentalists walked the site extensively and photographed it, proving that the great majority of the forest was green and healthy. In response to appeals by the John Muir Project, Lassen Forest Preservation Group, and Forest Conservation Council, the Regional Office of the Forest Service decided in the summer of 2002 not to remove any green trees.

"The bill Congressman Miller is working on allows the Forest Service to nearly clearcut old growth forests as long as they leave a token few trees behind, and it doesn't even require these projects to actually reduce fire severity or clear out flammable brush and slash, " charged Chad Hanson, Executive Director of the John Muir Project, based in Cedar Ridge, California. "The bill will destroy crucial wildlife habitat and increase severe fire behavior by allowing logging companies to remove the largest, most fire-resistant trees that currently provide the cooling shade of the forest canopy."

"We need to protect what remains of our public lands, not make excuses for further destruction," said Leeanne Siart, conservation coordinator for Oregon Natural Resources Council in Eugene.

Norman L. Christensen, Jr., professor of ecology in the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke University, says there is no question that active suppression of fires has resulted in excessive accumulation of highly flammable fuels in many western forests, but he warns against action that will increase logging indiscriminately. "Our fire management policies and protocols should be tailored to the particular conditions in each region,” he said. “Whatever policies are employed, it is critical that land management agencies provide assurances that their primary goal will be restoration of more normal fire regimes and not a backdoor mechanism to increase the cut of merchantable timber on public lands."

For more information, contact Andrew George, National Forest Protection Alliance, 828/280-6956; Bryan Vincent, American Lands Alliance, 530/265-3506; Leeanne Siart, Oregon Natural Resources Council, 541/344-0675; Chad Hanson, John Muir Project, 530/273-9290.

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Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.

This story was published on November 9, 2002.
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