Ban roads in federal forests, but go a step further
and end logging as well
by CHAD HANSON
Duluth, MN, News-Tribune Opinions
Mon, Jun. 24, 2002
Nearly two centuries ago, Lewis and Clark observed that a squirrel
could travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without ever touching
the ground. Similarly, in the old West, vast expanses of ancient
forests stretched as far as the eye could see. But not today. Logging
and road building have taken an incredibly heavy toll on our nation's
Now, the small fraction of America's original forests that remain
unlogged and unroaded exist almost entirely on federal public lands.
The Clinton administration, to its credit, proposed to protect these
wild lands. The Bush administration, to its shame, reversed that
policy and invited timber corporations to continue logging in roadless
Outraged, more than 170 members of the House recently co-sponsored
a bill to protect these critically important forests on public lands.
Congressional leaders should do the right thing and pass this legislation
outright, or at least deny funding for any logging in roadless forests.
These are the last, best forests -- the wildest and most ecologically
diverse places that remain. Severe fires are least likely to occur
in such forests because they have many mature trees with thick, fire-resistant
bark, and the forest canopy cover creates cool, moist conditions.
As the federal government's own National Fire Plan observes, such
fires are most likely to occur in areas where logging and road building
has been allowed.
At the same time, while protecting roadless forests on public lands
is a great step in the right direction, it's not nearly enough. Congress
should also recognize that, due to the habitat fragmentation caused
by logging and road building on public lands, most of the remaining
old-growth stands on our national forests are in tracts too small
to be considered "roadless."
Yet protecting these mature and old-growth forests is every bit
as important as protecting roadless areas if we are to sustain and
restore fully functioning forest ecosystems.
To put the issue in perspective: Because of commercial logging,
less than 10 percent of forest habitat on federal lands is in roadless
condition. In some states, such as Alaska and Montana, that percentage
is higher, of course.
The bottom line is that, because of the timber sales program on
our national forests, we have lost so much high quality forest habitat
that we can no longer simply protect some areas, and not others.
If forest ecosystems are to recover, and imperiled species to survive,
we must protect all remaining forests on federal public lands, roadless
and otherwise. In short, we must end the timber sales program on
federal lands, and redirect current logging expenditures into ecological
restoration. This includes reduction of flammable brush where excessive
accumulations occur due to past logging and fire suppression.
America is a nation of unparalleled beauty and grandeur. The captivating
natural landscapes are an indelible part of our national heritage
and identity. We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we can
squander our remaining wild lands without losing something as a nation,
and as a people.
Most Americans understand that. The Bush administration does not.
Therefore, it is up to Congress to express the will of the people,
and send a message that the integrity of our national forests is
more important than the short-term profits of the administration's
big timber campaign contributors.
As John Muir said a century ago, "Since Christ's time, and
long before that, God has cared for these trees, saved them from
drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand leveling, straining
floods; but he cannot save them from fools... Only Congress can do
CHAD HANSON of Cedar Ridge, Calif., is the executive director of
the John Muir Project and a national director of the Sierra Club.