For over 15 years, citizens in our region have worked within the laws and through the public process to end damaging logging operations in public forests. Our experience? Laws interfering with getting out “the cut” are flouted, suspended or gutted. Corporate plunder has replaced law and order in our national forests.
When Teddy Roosevelt established millions of acres of national forests, he did so to keep these forests out of the hands of timber syndicates. There was debate from the beginning about how best to protect and preserve these forests. Central to this debate has always been the question: Is commercial logging consistent with the mission of America’s federal forests?
The debate is often personified by two great Americans, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot. Muir, the farm boy and naturalist who founded the Sierra Club, advocated keeping the national forests forever wild, to ensure that Americans always have clean rivers and lakes, wildlife, and forests. Pinchot, a forester-politician trained in Europe, believed that the national forests could be preserved through uses that included logging - so long as logging was scientifically sound and showed profit.
Today, the dreams of both Muir and Pinchot lie in the ditches next to the costly 380,000 miles of logging roads bulldozed into the forested mountains of the national forest system. Their dreams are buried in the millions of tons of sediment that choke the spawning beds of our vanishing native trout and salmon. Logging roads and clearcuts, corporate plunder and huge costs to taxpayers have transformed the national forests from a unique American dream to a nightmare.
Follow the money: Congress funds the Forest Service … the Forest Service delivers taxpayer subsidized federal timber to the corporations … the corporations “donate” to the re-election campaigns of the politicians who fund the Forest Service. Get the picture?
As the General Accounting Office pointed out in 1995, the timber program for 1992-1994 cost taxpayers $1 billion more than receipts. In 1996, the condition was even worse: losses exceeded $400 million, not including damage to flooded homes, ruined hunting and fishing, and other forest values.
Upstream from Spokane and Coeur d’Alene is the Coeur d’Alene National Forest, the most heavily damaged of America’s 156 national forests. The Coeur d’Alene has 8,000 miles of logging roads - averaging 10 miles of logging road per square mile of forest (in some place exceeding 20 and even 30 road miles per square mile). The North Fork, once among the region’s most popular fishing streams, is demolished, from clearcuts and roads. Its floodwaters carry something special: lead - millions of pounds of lead - into Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Spokane River and the lives of the 500,000 people who live here. Estimated costs for restoring the North Fork: $100 million and up.
The Kootenai National Forest, in the extreme northwest corner of Montana, is another poster child. While logging the 4th of July and Arbo timber sales, the Forest Service “found” an extra 12 million board feet of logs (about 5,000 board feet fit on a loaded logging truck) for the timber companies that bought the sale. When the timber companies violated the government contract by logging streamsides and trees from outside the sale boundaries, the Forest Service virtually looked the other way.
Kootenai National Forest is being massively clearcut. Demolished. Plundered.
Remember the flooding in downtown Chewelah and the sandbags along Highway 395? Look upstream. First, Plum Creek hammered headwater streams around Chewelah. Now, the Forest Service is logging another 40 million board feet, building and rebuilding 177 miles of roads. Expect more floods.
The Forest Service will soon celebrate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial by massively clearcutting near the historic trail in the Clearwater National Forest.
Above the Lochsa River - remaining refuge of wild trout, salmon and steelhead - the federal agency is planning a 63 million-board-foot sale. This, despite hundreds of mudslides in 1995, 1996 and 1997 that devastated Clearwater National Forest.
Parents immediately know when they return home to find the baby-sitter abusing their child that it’s time to take action. For the national forests, it’s time to end commercial logging and put people to work restoring the damage.