Logger's Free Lunch: When Will Big Timber Get off the Dole?
Bergman, B. J., Sierra
Were John Muir and Adam Smith to rise from their graves, the state of 20th-century logging would likely plunge them both into deepest Scottish gloom. Modern-day timber barons routinely pillage our national forests in the name of quarterly profits, exploiting sweetheart leases that amount to federal giveaways. Greedy for new frontiers (having reduced the old ones to stumps), they dispatch logging crews to bulldoze roads into virgin forests, wrecking fish and wildlife habitat as they go. To top it all off, this orgy of roadbuilding (377,000 miles and counting) is subsidized by the forests' real owners--U.S. taxpayers--either in hard cash or in the form of credits, which allow still more logging.
Environmentalists have long criticized roadbuilding subsidies as a singularly destructive form of corporate welfare. Often built in steep, remote terrain, logging roads leave in their wake heavy soil erosion, which increases the frequency and severity of mudslides and floods, and degrades water quality and fish habitat. Roads are also a leading cause of forest fragmentation, one of the deadliest threats to wildlife.
But now environmentalists are finding a surprising new ally in fiscal conservatives, including some whose interest in things green has seldom extended to conservation. These deficit hawks don't see why clearcutters should collect $50 million a year in entitlements as reward for taking publicly owned trees. The hawk squawking the loudest is Congressman John Kasich, the rock-ribbed Ohio Republican who heads the House Budget Committee.
Kasich, said to be mulling a bid for the White House in 2000, is hoisting the banner of the Stop Corporate Welfare Coalition, which aims to trim more than $11 billion in what wags have christened AFDC, or Aid For Dependent Corporations. The group, a patchwork of fiscal watchdogs and left-leaning reformers, has put forest-road subsidies at the top of its hit list. President Clinton seems to have noticed: his 1998 budget proposal would eliminate Forest Service credits for roadbuilding.
"Last year we had support from a few fiscal conservatives," notes John Leary, a forest-policy specialist in the Sierra Club's Washington, D. …