A Conspiracy of Optimism: Management of the National Forests since World War Two

By Paul W. Hirt | Go to book overview

isted, Congress could essentially buy the higher harvests from the Forest Service through increased funding for reforestation, thinning, fertilizing, or pest control. In turn, the forest managers could proclaim their continued dedication to sustained yield by promising higher future volumes through the earned harvest effect. The status quo had been maintained.


Conclusion

Despite NFMA's adoption of the more restrictive definition of sustained yield, unsustainable harvest levels and accelerated old-growth liquidation continued through the late 1970s and on into the 1980s, partly through the auspices of the earned harvest effect. Even the supposedly pro-environmental Carter administration pressed the Forest Service to purposefully depart temporarily from nondeclining even-flow near the end of its term in order to flood the timber market to bring down housing prices to fight inflation and recession.47 As we will see in the next chapter, the first generation of forest plans developed under NFMA and released between 1982 and 1992 uniformly adopted unjustifiably optimistic assumptions to support high timber harvest targets. Technological optimism, administration pressure, and high timber quotas set in the annual appropriations acts remained the order of the day. The commitment to future generations implicit in the policy of sustained yield seemed always to yield to the demands of economic interests of the current generation.

Real reform would be postponed until the early 1990s when forest management monitoring showed that intensive silviculture was not as successful as predicted and that its negative impacts exceeded minimum legal standards of environmental protection. Simultaneously, many members of Congress began to feel that the financial costs of "earned" incremental increases to allowable harvests greatly exceeded their benefits. A revolution growing out of the collapse of the conspiracy of optimism was on the way.

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