Forest Health and the Politics of Expediency

By Axline, Michael | Environmental Law, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview

Forest Health and the Politics of Expediency


Axline, Michael, Environmental Law


I. INTRODUCTION

In 1995 Congress attached to an Emergency Appropriations Bill(1) a "rider"(2) creating an Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program."(3) The sponsors of the timber salvage rider asserted to their colleagues in Congress that the rider would protect the health of our national forests from an "emergency fire, insect and disease situation on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands."(4) The rider, however, has little to do with any forest health emergency requiring special legislation.(5) Under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA),(6) the Forest Service has ample authority to protect forest health and conduct salvage sales,(7) and has done so for years. Federal regulations also authorize BLM to permit salvage harvesting of damaged timber.(8) In reality, the timber salvage rider is a vehicle for suspending environmental laws and increasing timber supplies(9) to a relatively small group of mills that depend on federal timber (as opposed to private or state timber) to stay in operation.

To increase timber supplies for mills that depend on federal timber, the rider suspends the applicability of the nation's environmental and fiscal responsibility laws for most Forest Service and BLM timber sales, and orders the Forest Service and BLM to increase the volume of timber sold from federal lands, regardless of the fiscal or environmental impacts.(10) The rider also orders the Forest Service and BLM to sell off some of the nation's healthiest and most ecologically valuable ancient forests at bargain basement prices.(11)

There are a number of ironies surrounding the salvage logging rider. First, one of the primary threats to the "health" of the national forests is the very timber cutting and road building ordered by the rider.(12) Past road building and timber cutting in many cases have increased fire risk in national forests and made these forests more susceptible to disease and insect infestation.(13) Ordering more of the same may well decrease, not increase, the health of the national forests. At the same time a true threat to forest health - the importation of raw logs carrying pests that have few (if any) natural enemies in the national forests - is being ignored by the sponsors of the "forest health" rider.(14)

A second irony arising from the salvage rider is that the rider was promoted in part as a "jobs" bill,(15) but the rider actuary threatens the very qualities that attract jobs to areas with intact national forest lands.(16) During the last seven years, the Forest Service and BLM have decreased the amount of timber sold from federal lands in the Pacific. Northwest area and increased the amount of environmental protection provided for federal forests.(17) Over the same period, the overall number of jobs in the Pacific Northwest expanded by 940,000, or 18%.(18) The salvage logging rider reverses this dynamic by threatening the qualities of the national forests that generate more new jobs and income by providing the natural-resource amenities - water and air quality, recreational opportunities, scenic beauty, and the fish and wildlife - that make the Pacific Northwest an attractive place to live, work, and do business."(19) Logging not only harms the natural forest qualities that attract employers and jobs to the Northwest, but also threatens jobs, such as those related to sport and commercial fishing, outfitting, and outdoor guiding, that depend more directly on the preservation of forest ecosystems. Thus, although touted as a jobs bill by its sponsors, the rider actually sacrifices jobs in other sectors of the economy to support a limited number of jobs at mills dependent on federal timber.

A third irony of the salvage rider is that its sponsors claimed it was necessary to offset job losses within the timber industry caused by reductions in federal timber supplies.(20) But fluctuations in the federal timber supply have little impact on overall jobs in the industry when compared with other market forces. …

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