Imagine the day
the last tree falls
on public land ...
By Justin McCarthy
The end of logging public lands?
In 1989, my older brother and I hiked the length of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. Like many people, we mistakenly believed that the national forests were protected from logging, much like national parks. When we reached the Tahoe National Forest in the northern Sierra Nevada, we began to see U.S. Forest Service signs that read, "TRAIL WASHED OUT. TAKE DETOUR." Dutifully, we followed the hastily constructed detour trails, which often took us miles out of our way.
One day we saw two men who were standing next to one of these signs, and appeared to be writing something on it. As soon as they saw us approaching, they hurried away up the trail and out of sight.
The sign was the same "detour" sign we had seen for several days, but written on it in felt tip pen was a note which said, "CLEAR CUTS AHEAD. IT'S A SCAM!" We ignored the detour and followed the regular trail.
Sure enough, with in 100 yards we came upon an enormous clear cut, stretching from horizon to horizon. The trail was perfectly intact, but the forest itself had been devastated completely. Not a single tree remained.
-Chad Hanson, Executive Director of the John Muir Project
The National Forest Protection Alliance (NFPA) is a coalition of environmental organizations from various Sierra Club chapters and other national organizations such as American Land Trust, to regional and state organizations such as Colorado Wild. NFPA's roots are in the timber battles of the Northwest, with the "Zero Cut" supporters attempting to preserve ancient forests and end subsidized clear cuts on public lands. Their efforts started in the early 1990s.
Subsidized timber sales by the Forest Service have already cost America greatly, but new threats are on the horizon in the disguise of forest fire protection - despite recent studies that show timber harvesting increases fire risk. In order to put an end to timber sales on public lands, NFPA has proposed bill H.R. 1396 (The National Forest Protection and Restoration Act).
This legislation would end timber sales on public lands, protect roadless areas and end existing timber sales there, phase out all other timber sales within two years and cancel damaging "salvage rider sales." Taxpayers would save at least $300 million dollars annually and $900 million would be spent on restoration and the employment of former loggers effected by the legislation.
NFPA is looking for co-sponsors of the legislation from both parties. The bill was first introduced in 1997 by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Congressman Jim Leach (R-IA). attracting both Democrats and Republicans who want to protect the environment and cut out corporate welfare.
"At first blush, some might think ending logging on national forests is environmental extremism, but in fact, it is common sense," Leach said. "The U.S. government is the only property owner I know that, in effect, pays private parties to deplete its resources."
NFPA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that works in D.C. and throughout the nation with more than 200 member organizations. The organization promotes two reasons to end timber sales on public lands. The first is the greater importance that forests are left standing for the American people, and the second is that timber sales create more social and economic harm than good.
According to a recent report by NFPA on the economic effects of logging, national forests provide many social and economic contributions to the nation, simply by existing as natural ecosystems. Natural resource economists have coined the term "ecosystem services" to describe such contributions. They include important functions such as flood control, purification of water, recycling of nutrients and wastes, production of soils, carbon sequestering, pollination, and natural control of pests. They include valuable products as plants used in manufacturing life-saving medicines, edible, and floral greens. They include a diversity of uses such as recreation, hunting and fishing. And they include scenic, aesthetic, and cultural values that are important quality-of-life factors for communities adjacent to our national forests.
Economists have recently estimated that ecosystems provided by forests worldwide are worth at least $4.7 trillion per year. These ecosystems service values dwarf the value of timber production. National forests provide clean water to the public and businesses estimated to be worth $3.7 billion a year. This does not include the benefits to local habitat and recreation associated with it. In addition, the national forests clean out over 53 metric tons of carbon every year, estimated to be worth $3.4 billion.
The recreation industry, including hunting and fishing, contributes at least $111 billion and 2.9 million jobs to the economy. These figures dwarf timber industry economics by more than 30:1. In addition, the wild pollinators of the forests contribute about $4-7 billion a year to the agricultural economy. The effects of logging can destroy fisheries, game and endangered species habitat, agricultural lands, and the businesses related to them.
The subsidized timber program netted a loss of $3.3 billion from 1997 to 1999, according to zero-cut environmentalists. The timber industry claims that below-cost sales exist due to environmental regulation. But, according to the John Muir Project, these regulations consist of less than 6 percent of the annual appropriations of the logging program on national forests. Despite these numbers, logging in national forests contributes less than 3 percent of our nation's annual wood consumption.
The cost to citizens may also be measured in flood damage. This problem was especially evident in 1996, during the severe floods experienced in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Damage was extreme due to the disappearance of many forests that once existed to absorb massive amounts of water. Lives, private property, hunting grounds and agricultural lands were lost. The Forest Service spent $100 million to repair damaged roads and bridges alone.
Despite the value of the forests left standing, the Forest Service seems to only see value in cut timber. This shortsightedness is believed by environmentalists to have cost billions to taxpayers and an immeasurable amount in environmental damage. NFPA has generated 97 co-sponsors for its bill, but it does need Western support.