Front Porch Blog

Don’t rush tree harvesting

2006 Globe Newspaper Company.
EDITORIAL September 12, 2006

FOREST FIRES often leave behind scorched or partially
burned trees that some timber companies are happy to
harvest –if the taxpayers will pay for the costly
roads into the deep woods of the national forests. The
loggers would also like to be exempted in their
salvage work from the full review procedures of both
the National Environmental Policy Act and the
Endangered Species Act. All of these favors for the
logging industry are in a bill that the Senate should
reject.

Forestry scientists debate the best way for woods to
regenerate after a fire. Some argue for taking out the
standing trees and planting new ones. Others believe
it is better to let forests come back naturally, as
they have for millennia, which also avoids the stream
damage and erosion sometimes caused by logging. Dead
or damaged trees left standing often provide ample
“cavity habitat” for birds and other species.

Some loggers like salvage timbering because they pay
even lower fees than usual to the government and get
access to big, valuable trees in old-growth areas.
Replanting after cutting, they say, speeds the process
of new tree growth. According to the Forest Service,
cutting in areas damaged by fires or storms accounts
for 34 percent of all tree harvesting in its forests
nationwide in the past six years.

The current system permits the pros and cons of any
proposed project to be weighed in a deliberate public
process. Loggers, wildlife specialists,
conservationists, and the public can make a case for
or against the Forest Service opening up an area for
timbering. Such decisions affect communities near the
forests because the Forest Service has a limited
budget, and money spent on new roads for timbering is
money that could be spent helping to protect
communities from wildfires.

The bill, which passed the House and is now before the
Senate Agriculture Committee, would also allow a
measure of public review. But it would speed up the
process unnecessarily. Senator Patrick Leahy of
Vermont, a committee member, says the bill limits
public input too much. The bill’s supporters say that
devastating natural events like Hurricane Katrina
justify the exemption of logging projects from
environmental laws. But after Katrina such laws did
not prevent the Forest Service from planning and
executing the largest post-emergency logging project
in the nation’s history. According to a Forest Service
report in July, the clean up of Katrina damage in
national forests is already 90 percent complete.

Some areas damaged by fire or storms should be logged;
some shouldn’t. But backers of this bill have no case
that these decisions should be rushed, or placed
outside the protective framework of environmental law.

Courtesy of Virginia Forest Watch

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