The 'Sustainable' definition slippery
By Chad Hanson - Sat, Nov 10, 2001
Grass Valley Union, California
In his recent opinion piece, Steve Eubanks, the supervisor of the
Tahoe National Forest, claimed that the timber sales program on the
Tahoe National Forest is "sustainable" (The Union, Oct.
29). Terms like this are so vague, and so easily misused, it's hard
to know what someone means when they make such a claim. Here's what
we do know, however. Over the past seven or eight years, California
spotted owl populations have been declining by 7 to10 percent each
year in the Sierra Nevada, including on the Tahoe National Forest.
The Forest Service's own scientists have published studies specifically
linking the owl's decline to logging practices on national forests.
The spotted owl is perhaps the best indicator of the overall condition
of old-forest habitat in the Sierra Nevada. As the owl goes, so too
do hundreds of other old-forest species. Another key indicator species
is the Pacific fisher, a mink-like mammal dependent upon mature forests
with high canopy cover. The fisher used to range throughout the Sierra
Nevada. However, the Forest Service has determined that the fisher
has been largely extirpated from the central and northern Sierra
Nevada over the past several years. Only 100 to 500 individual fishers
remain in the entire Sierra range. They are all in the southern Sierra
and are declining steeply. Again, the Forest Service's own scientists
directly link the fisher's decline to logging practices on national
forests. They have also determined that suitable fisher habitat must
be maintained in the central and northern Sierra in order for the
remaining southern Sierra population to reconnect with populations
in the North Coast and Klamath regions in far Northern California.
If this is not done, agency scientists warn, the fisher will become
extinct in the Sierra Nevada in the near future. Despite the dire
circumstances facing the spotted owl and Pacific fisher, the Tahoe
National Forest nevertheless continues to focus the vast majority
of its logging projects in suitable owl and/or fisher habitat because
that's where the most economically valuable mature trees are. These "thinning" timber
sales focus on the removal of medium and large trees from 12 to 30
inches in diameter. Consequently, forest canopy cover is substantially
reduced, rendering the areas unsuitable, or marginally suitable,
for owls and fishers. Like hundreds of other old-forest species,
fishers and owls require closed-canopy forest conditions for survival.
Fishers, for example, are low to the ground and have short legs.
The forest canopy lessens snow coverage in winter, allowing fishers
to travel and hunt. By removing mature trees which comprise the canopy,
commercial thinning projects seriously degrade the forest crown cover,
causing fishers to starve to death, and making them more susceptible
to predation. In addition, these thinning timber sales reduce shade
and erode the moist, cool conditions associated with mature forests.
As a result, they create hotter, drier conditions on the ground,
making the forest more susceptible to unnaturally severe forest fires.
The Forest Service's own science confirms this. Despite these factors,
though, the Tahoe National Forest continues to plan and implement
timber sales which destroy and degrade owl and fisher habitat and
increase the incidence of severe fires. This is not sustainable under
any reasonable definition. In addition, studies prepared by the Forest
Service and independent research firms have confirmed that recreation
and tourism on national forests creates 20 to 30 times more jobs
and economic contribution than logging on national forests. Notably,
logging degrades the very heart of the recreation economy: wildlands.
The reality is that we must end the timber sales program on our nation's
national forests and replace it with an ecological restoration jobs
program, as HR 1494, the National Forest Protection and Restoration
Act, would do. It would be good for the forests, and good for jobs.
And it would be sustainable.
Chad Hanson is the executive director of the John Muir Project, and
is a national director of the Sierra Club. He lives near Cedar
Ridge. His e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org