Burned-over and diseased forests in the Inland Northwest are rotting while Congress fiddles.
Dead trees, scorched in devastating fires throughout the Inland Northwest last summer, will be lost in 15 months unless Congress acts - now.
A bipartisan forest-health bill, proposed by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and endorsed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., provides a reasonable solution by eliminating some timber sales appeals and some environmental reviews.
The Spokesman-Review editorial board supports Craig’s bill - with some reservations.
The bill must protect designated wilderness areas as well as sensitive habitat, and it shouldn’t permit industry to log extensively in slightly diseased forests under the guise of forest health.
Frantic environmentalists, who have used appeals to thwart logging in the Northwest’s national forests, view Craig’s bill as “a declaration of war on the national forest.”
But we see it as a touch of common sense in a polarized debate.
It makes no sense to waste dead and diseased timber when the timber industry and the communities it supports critically need wood fiber. Also, some forests should be thinned to prevent the type of high-intensity wildfires that swept through the region last summer.
U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas pinpointed the problem last August at a meeting of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry. Thomas said the key to healthier forests and wildfire prevention involves thinning and prescribed burning of timber ravaged by insect infestation and years of drought.
Craig’s bill picks up where former U.S. Rep. Larry LaRocco, D-Idaho, left off. LaRocco and ex-House Speaker Tom Foley of Spokane lobbied successfully last year for 36 salvage, thinning and restoration projects on some of the 800,000 acres burned in Washington and Idaho.
But LaRocco tried and failed several times during his two terms to get the forest-health legislation passed.
The environmental movement has done well by forcing the timber industry to change its practices over the years to protect fish, wildlife and water quality. But now the pendulum has swung so far the other way that fear of potential lawsuits has paralyzed the federal government, limiting the timber cut in the national forests.
Environmentalists enjoy pointing out that the forests belong to all of us - not just the timber industry. That’s true. But the forests don’t belong to just them either.
Most Americans don’t want to see diseased and dead trees wasted.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board