How Much to Cut, How Much to Spare Administration Forestry Policy: A Clear-Cut Disaster

By Michael Fischer. Michael Fischer is executive director of the Sierra Club. | The Christian Science Monitor, July 23, 1992 | Go to article overview
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How Much to Cut, How Much to Spare Administration Forestry Policy: A Clear-Cut Disaster


Michael Fischer. Michael Fischer is executive director of the Sierra Club., The Christian Science Monitor


ON June 4, just days before President George Bush was scheduled to fly to Brazil for the Earth Summit, the United States Forest Service announced that it was adopting a new "management philosophy." No longer would clear-cutting be the primary method of logging the public forests, Forest Service Chief Dale Robertson stated. From now on, the agency would manage the 191 million acres it holds in the public trust using an "ecological approach." "I know this is a tall order," he wrote, "but I believe we are now in a good position to do it."

Tall order indeed. Fifteen years ago, with the passage of the National Forest Management Act, Congress required the US Forest Service to manage lands for biological diversity. Since 1977, forest management that protects soil productivity, wildlife, fisheries, and watersheds - in short, ecosystem management - has been United States law. The Forest Service has blatantly ignored this mandate. Instead, it has followed a course of ecological destruction for our public forests, relying on large-scale clear-cutting.

The practice of clear-cutting is tremendously destructive. By stripping away 100 percent of the forest in a given area, slopes are exposed to increased erosion, which in turn contributes to stream siltation. This jeopardizes fish populations that require cold, clear water in which to reproduce.

Other wildlife are disrupted as well. Many species, including the pine martin, the fisher, and the spotted owl, need extensive tracts of continuous forest in order to survive. Clear-cutting fragments the forest and guarantees the eventual extinction of numerous species.

Clear-cutting also leads to the establishment of tree farms - rows of replanted trees, all the same age, all the same species. Biologically rich forests are transformed into sterile monocultures. Often, slopes are so denuded and eroded that trees are unable to grow back, leaving the ugly patchwork that so many aerial photos of our forests have depicted.

Through clear-cutting, the Forest Service has not only worked at destroying biological diversity, but has mortgaged the future of timber workers in this nation. Relying heavily on mechanized logging methods, clear-cutting employs far fewer people than more sustainable forestry practices such as selection harvesting.

The recent Forest Service announcement is more than a slick, politically motivated proposal. It is a swiss cheese plan that would allow the Forest Service to continue its years of taxpayer-financed destruction of our public forests.

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