Ex-logger Andrus says our forests are overcut


FAIRMONT HOT SPRINGS, Mont. - Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus used his time at the podium during a rare meeting of Forest Service district rangers Feb. 16 to complain that timber-sale goals in national forest management plans were boosted by politicians eager to please big timber companies.

"Your ASQs (allowable sale quantities) are not accurate. They are not right," Andrus told more than 100 district rangers and forest supervisors from Montana and northern Idaho.

"The rangers submitted honest evaluations of what the ASQ should be and that was changed by politicians in some cases," the governor said. The ASQ is the timber-cutting ceiling set for each national forest.

In a sometimes boisterous luncheon speech, Andrus said he knows the timber ceiling was set too high on northern Idaho's Clearwater National Forest. Andrus was born in Orofino and spent his early working life as a logger in the Clearwater. He said the forest's average timber cut, in the years before adoption of its management plan, was 135 million board-feet.

The first draft of the plan in 1985 put the goal at 150 million board-feet. But, Andrus said, "that was not good enough for Potlatch and some of those other greedy suckers who believe they have a God-given right to cut every tree that ever grew."

Industry wanted a 200-million-board-foot ASQ, the governor said. The Forest Service eventually set the number at 173 million board-feet in 1987.

"My guess is that an honest ASQ for the Clearwater is not nearly what the plan said," Andrus said. "Let's get it right. If it's 110 million board-feet, then let's say so. Or if it's 95 million board-feet. But whatever it really should be, let's tell the industry so they can plan on it."

Andrus attributed his own outspokenness to his decision to retire at the end of his fourth term as Idaho governor. "I am nearing the end of a long and mediocre political career. I can say anything that I am big enough to say."

The governor said foresters need to look over their shoulder at "where we have been so we know where we want to go in the future."

"But don't poke sticks at each other about past mistakes," Andrus said. "You have to make your judgments and your decisions. If you are comfortable with it, then tell the public what you are going to do and why. Put a light on it."

The Forest Service must change, he said. "You've got way too many roads, and some are still bleeding and leaching." Clearcuts - -even-age management," in Andrus' words - were a mistake. Some streams and watersheds were ruined, including one of the governor's favorite creeks in the Clearwater that "runs brown every time it rains."

Sherry Devlin writes for the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana.

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