Feinstein logging deal compromises California's
by Chad Hanson
See also: San Francisco Chronicle article
Friday, October 31, 2003
In a move that could ultimately damage forests and worsen the effects
of fires in California and the West, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.,
and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., cut a deal this week in Congress that assures
passage of the Bush administration's plan to increase logging n our
Deceptively named the "Healthy Forests Initiative" by
the administration, the legislation would allow increased logging
of healthy mature and old-growth trees on federal lands under the
guise of fire-risk reduction. Scientists have consistently stated
that removing the larger, more fire-resistant trees will make matters
Though perhaps well-intended, the Feinstein-Wyden compromise leaves
the bulk of the administration's original plan intact. It adds some
unenforceable language about protecting old-growth forests, but includes
numerous loopholes that allow logging of old-growth trees and roadless
areas. Further, the compromise fails to restrict activities to the
thinning of undergrowth and very small trees. As usual, large healthy
trees will be targeted for removal.
In addition, the Feinstein language does not require the cleanup
of flammable "slash debris" -- branches and twigs left
behind by logging crews. In other words, the deal doesn't require
projects that will actually reduce severe fire incidence, but will
likely have the opposite effect.
The compromise package would permanently reduce (and in many cases
eliminate) citizen participation and environmental analysis on decisions
involving logging of old-growth forests on public lands. What's more,
it only requires 50 percent of funds to be spent on reducing combustible
underbrush near communities, and it defines the notion of "urban
areas" so broadly that projects could be located virtually anywhere,
including the backcountry.
Feinstein opposed an amendment by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.,
that sought to require a much larger percentage of the funds to be
spent reducing flammable brush near homes. As a result, money that
would otherwise have been spent protecting property and human safety
will now be spent logging mature forests in remote areas. Timber
corporations will get rich while homes are left unprotected.
To make matters worse, Feinstein hasn't secured any promises from
the administration or House leaders, so the compromise could simply
be scrapped in conference committee after Senate passage, resulting
in an even worse bill.
For obvious reasons, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., boasted
that this legislation is "an important bill" for logging
corporations. For equally obvious reasons, environmental organizations,
large and small, are united against the legislation.
We can't have it both ways. We can't effectively reduce flammable
undergrowth and please the timber industry at the same time. Logging
companies have no interest in underbrush. They want valuable mature
and old-growth trees.
Yet, scientists have warned us for years that the removal of big
trees is one of the main causes of increased fire severity. Such
logging reduces the cooling shade of the forest canopy, creating
hotter, drier conditions on the forest floor. The extra sun exposure
increases the growth rate of flammable brush. Where big trees have
been removed, dense and highly flammable undergrowth soon develops.
In California, about 90 percent of our old-growth forests have been
logged. What remains is mostly on federal public lands. What is it
going to take for our elected officials to realize that protecting
communities requires clearing undergrowth near homes, not logging
old-growth forests and roadless areas? Or that most homes in need
of protection are in grasslands and chaparral, not forests? These
are questions that Californians may wish to ask their elected officials.
Feinstein claims that she wishes to protect old-growth forests and
roadless areas of public lands, while ensuring public safety. That's
an admirable goal, but she must first take responsibility for allowing
loopholes for logging -- loopholes that may not only destroy those
very forests but may also increase the incidence of severe fires.
Chad Hanson is executive director of the John Muir Project (www.johnmuirproject.org),
based in Cedar Ridge near the Tahoe National Forest.