Live Trees Are Logged As Salvage Review Finds Spotty Compliance With Environmental Laws
Spotty enforcement of environmental safeguards led to logging in areas of national forests with “virtually all live trees” under a salvage program intended to cull fire-prone stands of dead wood, a government study said Wednesday.
The U.S. Forest Service and four other federal agencies reviewing the logging found “substantial variation in field compliance” with special fish and wildlife protection measures Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman ordered in July in response to conservationists who had complained the emergency program was being abused.
“There was considerable variation in the types of sales identified by field offices as meeting the definition of salvage sales, … ranging from sales with virtually all dead trees to sales with virtually all live trees,” the interagency report said.
The White House Office of Management and Budget also assisted in the review, which cites a lack of commitment on the part of some Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials to the Endangered Species Act’s protection of fish and wildlife.
“This contributes to an adversarial rather than collaborative interagency relationship” between the land management agencies and the environmental regulators at the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and Environmental Protection Agency - the other participants in the review, the report said.
It recommends additional “direction and training to reinforce the need to fully embrace all goals” of the Endangered Species Act.
Overall, the review found the majority of salvage timber sales were in compliance with the safeguards Glickman imposed and that the agencies worked well together to improve forest health, protect the environment and re- move rotting timber before it lost its commercial value.
“Where the streamlined process was completed in a collaborative manner with true teamwork between the agencies, the process ran more smoothly, there were fewer setbacks and delays, sale preparation time lines were generally reduced and the sales were more likely to be designed to conserve threatened and endangered species or minimize adverse effects to these species,” the report said.
Problems stemmed in large part from the “extremely broad” definition of what constitutes dead or dying trees, the authors said. They found “significant gaps” in field monitoring especially regarding features “intended to ensure that activities are environmentally sound.” They did not specify the locations where logging of primarily live trees occurred.
Another problem cited was the Forest Service budgeting system, which rewards high levels of salvage logging.
“In situations where salvage funds comprise a substantial portion of the overall forest budget, there is an incentive to broadly interpret the definition of salvage in order to provide funding for forest-health related activities,” the report said.
Under pressure from Western Republicans voicing concerns about fire threats, Congress approved and President Clinton signed into law in July 1995 the measure waiving normal environmental protections and blocking citizen appeals of logging so as to expedite removal of dead and dying trees that were adding to fuel loads.
Environmentalists argued that the law was being abused to get at healthy stands of trees. Vice President Al Gore said earlier this year the signing of the measure was the biggest mistake of President Clinton’s first term, and Glickman started pulling back some of the proposed salvage sales during the summer.
Much of the logging under scrutiny occurred on steep slopes in Idaho, Oregon and Washington where erosion of soil into cold mountain streams poses risks to troubled fish species, including a number of salmon runs already declared threatened and endangered.
The report also focuses on logging in grizzly bear habitat in Montana, where Fish and Wildlife officials are “very concerned by the Forest Service’s low priority placed upon joint agreements designed to insure recovery of the grizzly bear” the report said.