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A Call For A Cease Fire In The Ancient Forest Wars, Part 3

(A Call For A Cease Fire. . . .)

#2: Public lands aren’t managed for the Public’s Best Interest Why don’t our policy priorities match our values? We know that that an Ancient Forest is worth more standing than logged, and we’re not just talking aesthetic, spiritual, or habitat values.

The Forest Service has calculated the yearly economic contributions of the National Forests. Only 2.7% of the value of the forests comes from timber, minerals, and grazing rights. A whopping 83.1% comes from clean water and air. These are Forest Service figures! In contrast, the Forest Service spends 39% of its annual budget on subsidizing resource extraction (a fancy term for logging and mining), while spending only 3% on protection of soil, air and water quality.1 

Taxpayers subsidize logging companies holding timber sale contracts to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. It was $791 million in 1997 alone2 . Some of this subsidy is used to engineer hundreds of miles of logging roads. Yet for fiscal year 1999, less than ten miles of road in the entire 191 million acre National Forest system will be rebuilt or constructed for purposes other than to access timber, even though the Forest Service admits that there is an $8,4000,000,000 (that’s $8.4 billion) backlog in road maintenance3 . Safe access to our public lands is compromised, and to make matters worse, hikers now have to pay for trail access.

It is the Northwest’s high quality of life, not its logging practices, that has fueled recent economic growth and stability from high-tech, manufacturing and design industries. Companies that are starting up, growing and relocating alike place high priority on outdoor recreational opportunities and clean drinking water as two premier aspects of the Northwest’s livability. The timber sale programs compromise both of these values.

While hiking, rafting, climbing, skiing, snowshoeing, fishing, and hunting are part of the Northwestern identity, clean drinking water is a regional treasure rare to the rest of the world. Nearly two million Oregonians get their drinking water from the headwaters of streams originating on USFS or BLM land. Forests collect and filter snowmelt, rain, and fog drip, producing exceptionally clean water. Many Northwest cities are able to produce pure drinking water at very low costs with little use of energy or chemicals.

However, these systems are effective only if the water has very low amounts of suspended solids, often referred to as “turbidity.” The July 1998 General Accounting Office (GAO) study entitled Oregon Watersheds determined that logged areas contributed nearly twice as much sediment to the water filtration systems as undeveloped areas during the 1996 floods. This rush of turbid water into water treatment systems forced the city of Salem to request exemptions from EPA turbidity standards for four months after the floods. The GAO report also states that the biggest offenders increasing turbidity in public forest streams are clear-cutting, tractor logging, broadcast burning, and road building. These logging techniques are still employed through the Northwest Forest Plan by the USFS and BLM in muncipal watersheds.

The Northwest Forest Plan also fails to protect streamside buffers. Although all streamside forests are placed in “riparian reserves,” many loopholes exist that allow for logging within the reserves. In 1997 alone, 5,523 acres of streamside forests with riparian “reserve” protection were logged.

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