By Chad Hanson
TIMBER FIRMS ARE USING CALIFORNIA'S ENERGY CRISIS TO PUSH MORE BIO-MASS
LOGGING IN U.S. FORESTS
Pasadena -- As other Western states begin to experience signs of
the energy crisis wreaking havoc in California, a segment of the
timber industry is attempting to cash-in by expanding sales of "bio-mass" timber
from national forests.
In the history of bad ideas, logging millions of acres of our nation's
priceless and irreplaceable national forests to provide taxpayer-subsidized
energy stands out with particular distinction.
Currently, bio-mass energy producers rely on burning waste paper,
used wooden pallets from factories and construction sites and agricultural
residues for much of their supply.
Now, in order to take advantage of the much-publicized energy crisis,
the bio-mass producers and the timber industry are joining forces
to persuade federal officials to allow them increased access to public
Though only a tiny percentage of most states' energy supply currently
comes from bio-mass logging on federal lands, the bio-mass and timber
alliance wants to expand such harvesting.
The alliance even is attempting to put a "green" spin
on its goals by claiming that it will harvest only twigs, branches
and occasional saplings left by logging crews. The unvarnished truth
is that bio-mass logging operations utilize heavy machinery to remove
nearly all trees up to four feet in circumference.
In so doing, they not only severely damage the fragile soil on the
forest floor, but also obliterate the forest understory, upon which
entire plant and animal communities rely for survival. Prey species
that live in the understory decline in numbers as a result, causing
imperiled raptors, such as owls and hawks, and fur-bearing animals,
to starve and die off.
With this past summer's wildfires still fresh in people's minds,
logging companies and the U.S. Forest Service claim that bio-mass
timber sales provide an important public service by helping to stop
fires from occurring in national forests. When will they ever learn?
Numerous government studies have concluded that commercial logging
increases -- not decreases-- fire risk and severity. Forests need
fire to return nutrients to the soil and facilitate growth of medium
and large trees. Older trees have thick, fire-resistant bark and
usually are not killed in fires.
The Forest Service should be working to restore the rejuvenating
ecological role of fire to forest ecosystems and educating homeowners
in urban areas that border wildlands about simple steps they can
take to co-exist with wildfire. Instead, with the encouragement of
the logging industry, the Forest Service is replacing its old misguided
fire suppression policy with a new and equally misguided "fireproofing" strategy.
Through bio-mass timber sales, the potential to remove nearly all
of the small trees across millions of acres is real. It's the same
old war on fire with a new twist. What's more, the great majority
of these timber sales are deep in the forest, miles away from the
nearest home. The Forest Service's own fire research station recently
issued a report which found that the only effective way to protect
homes near national forests is to reduce the flammability of the
home itself and its immediate surroundings within 40 meters.
Unfortunately, in some national forests, bio-mass logging companies
also are harvesting larger trees and actually increasing the risk
of severe fires by reducing forest canopy closure -- thereby creating
hotter, drier conditions on the ground.
Our federal forests are natural treasures. And they are public property
that belongs to all of us.
Are we really so shortsighted that we are willing to destroy federal
public forests to provide a tiny fraction of our energy supply? What's
next? Shall we also cut down trees in local public parks to burn
for energy? Perhaps even the benches and picnic tables, or anything
else made of wood?
We should be focusing on conservation of energy and creating incentives
for families that conserve, as well as developing truly renewable
and nondestructive means of energy production, such as wind and solar
Bio-mass logging of our national forests is not the answer. It is
at best a profoundly misguided act of desperation, and, at worst,
a transparent example of government using a public emergency as an
excuse to enhance corporate bottom lines. It should not be allowed.
In the end, we as a society are not so poor that we must log our
national forests, nor so rich that we can afford to.
Chad Hanson is the executive director of the John Muir Project,
and is a national director of the Sierra Club. Readers may write
him at John Muir Project, 30 N. Raymond Ave., Suite 514, Pasadena,
CA 91103 or E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.