As I See It

The National Forest logging act, recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives under the euphemism “Healthy Forests Restoration Act,” is a case study in how the system works.

The lumber industry, in its desire to increase logging in the National Forests, particularly in roadless areas which contain large old-growth trees, pressures a Congressman from Oregon, where lumber is a big industry, to promote opening up more of the National Forests to logging.

Since the industry undoubtedly contributes generously to his election campaigns, the Congressman is most willing to do their bidding. But, since that idea would not sit well with a majority of the American public, he needs an issue like motherhood and country to cover the true intent of his legislative attempt.

Lo and behold, in 2002 along comes a fire season like no other, which devastates much of Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which just happens to be represented by a willing collaborator who recognizes a political opportunity. “Voila,” we now have that motherhood and country issue – “save our forests from the threat of catastrophic fires” – so we can call the legislation the “Healthy Forests Restoration Act.”

Never mind that the major reason for the susceptibility of the forests to major conflagration is the flawed forest management policy which for over 50 years has required suppressing all fires as quickly as possible. This has resulted in a build-up of fuel in the form of thick underbrush, for which we are going to substitute a new misdirected forest management policy of increased logging.

Oh yes, they would like to call it thinning out the underbrush that is the culprit, but what logging company is going to be willing to remove underbrush without a payoff in cutting down big trees?

In addition the public will pretty much be excluded from the decision process as to where and how the operations in the forests will be conducted. This from our Congressman who complained bitterly that the White River Forest Management Plan had not had adequate public input despite nearly 16,000 responses, and submitted his own plan to take its place.

Recently, a large number of communities in the 3rd Congressional District, including Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt, wrote to Congressman Scott McInnis requesting him to amend the bill to put the priority on areas close to populated areas, where life and property were at risk.

Those are also the areas where most man-made forest fires originate. When the legitimate concerns expressed in these requests were read at the Congressional hearing on the bill, Congressman McInnis’ response was extremely hostile. So much for democracy in the third Congressional District.

The obvious question is why the bill is focused on federal forest land far removed from populated areas, much of it in currently roadless areas. These are of course the areas which are most attractive to the logging companies.

The proponents argue that we need roads cut into the roadless areas to provide access to defend them from fire.

However, blazing roads into unroaded areas does not promote healthy forests. It provides avenues of invasion by foreign species, particularly after the land has been stripped and trampled by logging operations.

New roads where none existed before also provide access for off-highway vehicles and snowmobiles into sanctuaries where wildlife now retreat to escape from the interference of mechanical devices.

The so-called “Healthy Forest Restoration Act” merely replaces the old forest mismanagement policy with a misdirected new one. Nature has managed the forests very well for centuries, and we should let it continue to do so except in areas where lives and property are at risk. Our only hope now is that the Senate will see it in that light and amend the House-approved bill to make it live up to its name.

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