Carving up California
Logging industry misleads on Sierra plan
by Chad Hanson
Sunday, February 16, 2003
Francisco Chronicle article
As the Bush administration puts the Clinton-era Sierra Nevada Framework
Plan on the chopping block in order to clear the way for increased
logging of mature trees, the timber industry's media machine is in
full swing with copious self-serving misinformation.
photo by René Voss
For instance, David Bischel, president of the California Forestry
Association, claimed in The Chronicle on Feb. 4 that out of 227 "fuels
reduction" projects on the national forests of the Sierra Nevada,
about "85 percent of them [are] either appealed or litigated." In
fact, the Forest Service's own Web site shows that only about 10
to 15 percent of these projects are appealed by environmental groups.
Only about 2 percent are litigated.
Bischel also neglected to mention that the challenged projects were
large timber sales that proposed to remove mature trees under the
guise of fire-risk reduction. Fire ecologists tell us that removal
of the mature overstory trees that comprise the forest canopy will
actually increase fire severity by reducing shade, and increasing
sun exposure. This not only creates hotter, drier conditions, it
also increases the growth rate of flammable brush.
Environmentalists consistently supported the framework projects
designed to reduce the thickets of undergrowth caused by past logging
and fire suppression.
Studies have shown that such projects effectively reduce the incidence
of large severe fires. But the Bush administration's timber industry
buddies have no interest in underbrush. They want increased access
to economically-valuable mature trees on our public lands, and President
Bush is eager to comply.
Bischel also pointed to large 2002 fires in Oregon and California,
and claimed that "we came within a whisker of losing the giant
sequoias to fire" last year. In reality, while the Oregon fire
was indeed large, only about 12 percent of the area burned intensely
according to Forest Service scientists, who were quoted saying that
the fire had a positive effect ecologically.
Bischel's comments on the McNally fire in Sequoia National Forest
are equally misleading. According to an October 2002 analysis by
the supervisor's office of the Sequoia National Forest, only 8 percent
of the area was intensely burned. The giant sequoia groves have experienced
fires many times in their long history. In fact, giant sequoias are
not only one of the most fire-resilient conifers on the planet, they
also depend upon fire for regeneration, because their cones need
fire to trigger release of seeds. Flames must be high enough to scorch
the lower crown of the giant trees.
Interestingly, even the small portion of a given forest fire that
does burn intensely provides a critical ecological role. Numerous
species depend upon moderately to severely burned forests for habitat.
They nest in the natural cavities that occur in the larger dead trees
and feed upon the abundant native insects that are attracted to fire-killed
timber. A number of these species are imperiled in the Sierra, in
part due to post-fire salvage logging of burned forests.
Finally, the Bush administration and its timber industry allies
make the circular argument that they must gut the Sierra Nevada Framework
Plan and allow dramatically increased logging of mature trees supposedly
in order to generate revenue to reduce the flammable brush caused
by logging. In reality, because federal timber is routinely sold
for pennies on the dollar, a brush reduction project only costs taxpayers
about 15 percent more than a timber sale of equal acreage, according
to numerous U.S. Forest Service environmental assessment documents.
Additionally, the flammable thickets of shrubs, weeds and saplings
that rapidly develop after logging must be reduced within several
years at a price tag roughly equivalent to the initial logging project.
Thus, logging actually costs twice as much as simply funding brush
reduction directly through congressional appropriations.
What's more, the administration and its allies in Congress have
hatched an appropriations rider that would allow such logging to
occur without any revenue being generated. Under the guise of "goods
for services," as long as a logging project is superficially
packaged as "fuels reduction," the Forest Service will
simply give mature trees away to logging corporations as supposed
payment for the "service" of removing them.
It is clear that the Bush administration and its allies seek nothing
less than to turn California's beloved national forests over to the
Sound fire management, and the ecological health of Sierra Nevada
national forests, are too important for political games. Can we have
an honest debate on forests, or will we just see more hot air from
the Bush administration and logging interests?
Chad Hanson, executive director of the John
Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org), is a national director of
the Sierra Club.