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The Planet

State and Private Forests Need Protection Too

The Planet, October 1995, Volume 2, number 7

State of the States

by Anne Woiwode
Michigan Forestry and Biodiversity Program Director

A small girl stands in a pristine forest, looking pensive. The hush is broken only by the headline. "Though we're one of the largest private landowners in America, we know it's"--here the words grow so large they require another page--"not only our land." If that doesn't convince you international Paper cares about the environment, the slick magazine ad provides three columns of text to finish the job.

Not to be outdone, Georgia-Pacific shows us seven children in a bright green sea of seedlings. "I think it makes the kids feel good to know that we care," we're told by "Jimmy Anderson, nurseryman." "That we're doing our part. And that we're going to make sure Where will always be plenty of trees. For them. And for their kids, too."

Those kids, as it happens, depend more than they know on the goodwill of timber-industry giants. because, for the most part, federal restrictions on logging don't apply.

Sierra Club members have been a powerful force in the effort to achieve environmentally sensitive management for the vast National Forest System. Yet well over half of America's forestlands-57 percent, or some 500 minion acres--are privately owned or controlled by state or local governments. The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act's pollution runoff regulations do apply in these forests, and a number of federal programs offer incentives for sound management. For the most part, though, oversight for most of the nation's forests is left to state and local agencies, whose concern does not always match that of Jimmy Anderson, nurseryman.

The neighboring states of Michigan and Wisconsin provide a snapshot of some of the significant differences in state and local forest management. In Michigan, there is no fundamental statute creating the state forest system, three-quarters of whose 3.8 million acres were acquired through tax reversion. Michigan's Natural Resources Commission, as a result, makes policy without the benefit of a coherent policy mandate. Wisconsin, by contrast, has statutes governing the purposes of both the 600,000 acres of state forest and the 2.2 million acres of county forestlands, both of which emphasize management to promote the timber industry. An exciting effort to rewrite the Wisconsin state forest law to include biodiversity protection is currently underway.

It is increasingly clear--to quote from "Defining Sustainable Forestry," a report that came out of a 1993 conference on the subject--that "neither our current system of forest reserves... nor any conceivable such system will be sufficient to provide adequate protection of biodiversity in the wide range of forest habitats." For that reason, Sierra Club activists are focusing more of their attention on non-federal lands.

Forest practice aces have been in existence in some states since the late 1930s, with She earliest laws focused on reforestation. But it wasn't until the 1970s that more comprehensive forest practices laws were enacted. Protection of water quality, habitat, soils, aesthetic concerns and timber productivity are found more and more in the newer laws. These new laws generally either prescribe types of harvesting activities permitted, or require the timber harvester to assure that certain performance standards are met through development of a plan approved by the regulatory agency.

As new laws were enacted in response to environmental concerns, the forest products industry also began to weigh in, recognizing that by initiating forest practice regulations they could check strict environmental standards. For example, concern about local ordinances regulating logging activities has prompted the industry to seek preemption of local controls in state forest practice acts. That concern has also caused it to spend hundreds of thou- sands of dollars on ads to reassure us that such laws aren't needed.

Nevertheless, Sierra Club members concerned about the future of forest ecosystems and biodiversity ill most parts of the United States will eventually find that their efforts demand moving outside the arena of federal lands.

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