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Letter to the Editor of the Wall Street Journal
RE: Playing With Fire WSJ 8/23/01


Sent AUGUST 24, 2001

Dear Editor:

The Wall Street Journal's effusive endorsement of George W. Bush's 10-year Strategic Plan for managing wildland fires missed some key points ("Playing With Fire", 8/23/01). First, the Journal supports Bush's proposal to invite more timber corporations on to America's national forests, supposedly to reduce "hazardous fuels", such as "underbrush" and shrubs.

While it is true that underbrush should be reduced in some areas, the reality is that logging companies have no interest in saplings and shrubs. They are too small and have no commercial value. The timber industry wants one thing from national forests: mature trees.

The problem, though, is that commercial "thinning" of mature trees substantially increases the incidence of severe fires, according to scientists. Such activities not only leave behind highly flammable "slash debris", but also reduce forest canopy cover, creating hotter, drier conditions on the ground.

The Forest Service's own National Fire Plan, issued in September of 2000, warns that the agency's wildland fire policy should "not rely on commercial logging or new road building to reduce fire risks" because "the removal of large, merchantable trees from forests does not reduce fire risk and may, in fact, increase such risk". The scientific document also warns that "logging and clearcutting can cause rapid regeneration of shrubs and trees that can cause highly flammable conditions within a few years of cutting."

The Journal also incorrectly claims that most of the acreage burned is on national forests lands, and not on private timber lands. In fact, only 13% of the fires this year are on national forests, both by acreage and number of fires, according to government figures compiled by the Pacific Biodiversity Institute. Seventy-nine percent of the fires are occurring on nonfederal lands where the worst logging occurs.


Chad Hanson
Executive Director
John Muir Project
30 N. Raymond Ave., #514
Pasadena, CA 91103
(w) 626-792-0109
(fax) 626-792-1565