Salvage logging bill spits in our eye

  Dear HCN:

The emergency timber salvage sale amendment tacked on to the budget package in the House and the Senate spits in the eye of the public and does nothing to improve the health of our national forests (HCN, 4/3/95). Now, we must urge President Clinton to veto this attack on our forests and our economies.

The emergency is in Congress, not in our forests. Throwing out the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act and locking people out from their forests - in the name of forest health - is a sham. It says the Forest Service and timber workers can't follow laws and do their jobs, so shortcut the laws and cut the trees.

This approach will fill sawmill yards with cut-rate logs, further dropping stumpage fees, leaving taxpayers and woodlot owners holding the bag.

The tight 46-48 vote in the Senate at the end of March on the salvage amendment does not indicate how even the sides are, but rather how little the public was involved. If forest scientists and strategists were able to bring information to Congress, in public hearings in Washington and at home, the purpose of this salvage rampage would be transparent.

But the salvage scam was jammed through in a tag-on amendment because it couldn't stand the light of day. Timber salvage after fires has nothing to do with forest health or ecological restoration. Post-fire timber salvage is an economic decision, not an ecological one. Taking out black trees by salvage logging does not fix pre-existing problems of roads, stream sedimentation and wildlife habitat fragmentation. It also doesn't prevent fires or fix potential fire hazard elsewhere.

On Idaho's Payette and Boise national forests, where I live, forest fires covered almost 500,000 acres in 1994. The forests did not burn up, though many trees were killed. The Forest Service is planning the largest timber sales in the state's history to reap some economic value from those burned trees. The planning process includes public comment, meetings, field trips. If we are not satisfied with the sales or the analysis, we can appeal or go to court.

At this point we don't think the agency's plan to salvage log 263 million board-feet in the Boise, announced in Mid-March, will protect riparian areas inhabited by the threatened bull trout. We are also concerned that it will eliminate the closest undesignated wilderness to the state capitol, the Breadwinner.

But the proposed salvage scam just passed by Congress locks us out from any public process. The Idaho logging sales will double in volume and size. A proposed addition to the Sawtooth wilderness and four other potential wilderness areas on the Payette and Boise will be logged along with the Breadwinner; ongoing studies of potential Wild and Scenic Rivers and Research Natural Areas will be discarded, and the areas logged. The careful planning of the Forest Service to limit roads and leave some trees for wildlife will be cast aside.

If Congress sets the rules with this amendment, an additional 3 billion board-feet - on top of the current annual Forest Service cut of 4 billion board feet - will fall to the saws without public involvement.

Idaho forests will become stump fields.

John McCarthy

Boise, Idaho

The writer is conservation director for the Idaho Conservation League.

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