Sierran Masthead

Getting Burned by the Timber Industry

By Douglas Bevington, Volunteer Outreach Liaison for Sierra Club’s End Commercial Logging Committee

The Sierra Club’s national conservation priority campaign to end commercial logging (ECL) on our national forests has been making great progress.

Over 200 esteemed scientists have signed on to a letter urging President Bush to halt all commercial logging on national forests.

Meanwhile, the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act (HR 1494), a cornerstone of the ECL campaign, has continued to gain Congressional cosponsors and is now more than half way to a majority in Congress. (To date, Rep. Julia Carson is the only member of the Indiana delegation to cosponsor HR 1494.)

Faced with these successes, the timber industry has launched a cynical public relations campaign to blame forest protection for this summer’s fires in drought-stricken regions of the West.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, countless scientific reports have shown that logging actually increases fire risk and severity.

For example, the government’s National Fire Plan states, “Removal of large, merchantable trees from forests does not reduce fire risk and may, in fact, increase that risk.”

This is common sense. Logging removes the large trees that are most fire-resistant, leaves behind flammable debris, and opens up the canopy, making the forest hotter, drier, and more fire-prone.

Fire is a natural and necessary part of Western forest ecosystem, but all of the logging and fire suppression has made some forests prone to burn hotter. Because of this, scientists and environmentalists have supported some efforts to supplement prescribed burning with “manual treatments” when needed to restore a healthy fire cycle.

These treatments may involve cutting, but they are very different from what we think of as logging.

As the forest service’s fire specialist Denny Truesdale stated, “What is needed is to take care of the underbrush and dry twigs. The majority of the material that we need to take out is not commercial timber and is up to three and four inches in diameter. We can’t sell it.”

But the timber industry doesn’t want to prune brush. It wants to cut the big fire-resistant trees, because big trees mean big profits. So timber interests have tried to misrepresent our ECL position as being against all forest management activities.

This claim is blatantly false, as the bill makes clear. HR 1494 does not preclude any activity necessary for ecological restoration, and it includes clear provisions for fire risk reduction.

What it does stop is commercial logging on national forests. And that makes good sense, because as long as the timber industry can profit from subsidized federal timber, there will always be tremendous pressure on the forest service to turn restoration projects into the same old destructive logging that actually increases fire.

Only by ending commercial logging can we be assured of restoration projects that are genuinely based on the needs of the forest rather than the greed of the timber companies.

HR 1494 also ensures the funding for restoration. At present, the forest service’s timber sales program operates at a net loss to taxpayers of over a billion dollars per year.

HR 1494 ends this destructive and wasteful program and redirects funding into noncommercial restoration and fire risk reduction.

HR 1494 also provides support for research into wood use reduction, all while saving taxpayers over $300 million in the first year alone.

ECL makes good sense for forests, rural communities, and taxpayers. Our forests need genuine, noncommercial restoration and fire risk reduction, not repackaged stealth timber sales. Please ask your Congressperson to stand up for our national forests by supporting HR 1494.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[09/11/02]efp

Fall 2002