(A Call For A Cease Fire. . . .)
#3: We can’t trust the feds to do the right thing. Despite all of the rhetoric coming from the new Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, most Regional and District planners are still trying “to get out the cut.” The record of the actions of many Forest Service officials indicates that the agency views much federal environmental law, public input, and protocol simply as impediments to sidestep.
A recent, glaring example of federal agencies breaking the law was showcased when the 9th Circuit Court temporarily halted nine timber sales on grounds that the agencies are not in compliance with the Northwest Forest Plan. Judge William Dwyer agreed with 13 plaintiff environ-mental groups that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management failed to carry out the Plan’s “survey and manage” requirements. These requirements for monitoring plant and animal population and protecting their critical habitat were fundamental to the Northwest Forest Plan.
Surveys were bypassed entirely in many timber sales areas. Dwyer said the Forest Plan’s survey requirements are “clear, plain and unmistakable. (F)ar from being minor or technical violations, widespread exemptions from the survey requirements would undermine the management strategy on which the (Plan) depends.” It is clear that even the most rudimentary protections that the Northwest Forest Plan affords to drinking water and wildlife have been ignored to allow the agency to continue its addiction to timber sale receipts. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have demonstrated over and over again that they are incapable of administering a timber sale program in accordance with the law, keeping the public interest in mind.
To add insult to injury, many timber corporations who purchased second growth timber sales are now logging Ancient Forests instead. Over 170 million board feet (approximately 34,000 logging trucks full) of second growth timber sales on the Oregon coast were ruled illegal because of violations of federal environmental laws. Under a federal “replacement volume” program, these logging companies were awarded Ancient Forest logging contracts in the Cascades for no additional charge. These proposed trades, according to forestry consultant Roy Keene, “go beyond just an environmental issue. It’s about dealing fairly,… openly and equitably with precious public resources.”
Besides being a taxpayer rip-off, the replacement volume program is an endangered species shell game. The reason the timber sales on the Oregon coast were found to be illegal was because they would have destroyed habitat of the marbled murrlett, an endangered bird of prey. So the public land managers, in their infinite wisdom, swapped them for sales in habitat critical for the survival of the Northern Spotted Owl.
These replacement volume sales go above and beyond the planned sale quantity for each USFS district. The regular sale quantity is considered the maximum cut possible without unravelling Ancient Forest ecosystems. But of course, such subtleties do not matter to the USFS planners.
Many District Rangers and Regional Foresters spent their formative years in the agency during heyday logging years. Generally speaking, they truly believe that chainsaws and logging trucks belong in pristine forests. Despite polls that indicate that 79% of the American public oppose logging on our National Forests,4 powerful civil servants resist change. This resistance to change holds the future of rural Northwest towns and America’s quality of life in the balance.
The Solution Though the problems seem insurmountable, the solution is clear. First, permanently protect all publicly owned pristine forests. I don’t want to live to see the day that I can say “I was in the last generation to view wild salmon, hear the hoots of spotted owls, and be in a place so wild that I could believe I was the first human ever to see it.” Second, shift the hundreds of millions of dollars currently allocated to timber sale infra-structure into a restoration infrastructure. There would be no loss of rural jobs, as the same equipment used to log and road our forest can be used to restore it.
This is a golden opportunity to beat swords into plowshares, and we must not miss the opportunity. As a people, it’s in our collective self-interest to transform our vocabulary of war into productive dialogue leading to policies that support our quality of life. If we continue to think of pristine forests on public lands in terms of who is winning the conflict, we will all lose in the end. Not only will we lose jobs and the infrastructure for producing clean water, clean air, and recreational opportunities, but also our children’s chances to experience the connectedness of the land.
As my friend Michael Donnelly says, “If you don’t think everything is connected, try to hold your breath for a while.” Let’s not allow the lungs of the planet, our pristine forests, to be compromised or destroyed; if we do, then regardless of our ideologies, we’ll all be gasping for air.
1 Moskowitz, K. “Economic contributions and expenditures in the National Forests.” 1999. Prepared for American Lands Alliance. 2 John Muir Society, Sierra Club. Figures reviewed and deemed credible by the Congressional Budget Office. 3 Interview with USFS Washington D.C. staff, Chris Wood, ranking deputy. 4 Market Strategies Inc., 1998.
Jeremy Hall is one of many activists working to preserve and protect wild forests in the Pacific Northwest. After living around industrial logging his entire life, Jeremy began to devote his life to pristine forest advocacy in 1995. When not out eating salmon berries, documenting public land abuse, swimming under waterfalls or photographing proposed clearcuts, Jeremy works in the Oregon Natural Resources Council offices in Portland. He can be reached at (503) 283-6343 or by email.