By Brian Vanneman
From the San Bernadino National Forest east of Los Angeles to the
Rocky Mountains in Montana, the west is dried out. This is the fifth
year of drought conditions in the region, and by some measures,
the risk of wildfires to communities, national forests, and wildlife
habitats has never been greater.
Like it or not, the Bush administration has a plan. Over the opposition
of the Sierra Club and a wide range of allies, the Bush administration
pushed its so-called "Healthy Forests Restoration Act"
through Congress last November. According to the plan’s introductory
"purposes" section, goal number one is "to reduce
wildfire risk to communities."
But the initiative’s stated goals simply serve to justify
opening up millions of acres of backcountry forests to logging.
Since the bill’s passage, the administration has spent $5.8
million to plan the Biscuit timber sale in Oregon, and set aside
another $5 million to plan the cutting of Alaska’s Tongass
forest. "Every dollar that goes towards a backcountry logging
project is a dollar that can’t be spent protecting lives and
property," says Tim Allyn, a Sierra Club forests representative
based in Los Angeles.
Though the administration vowed to set aside $760 million this year
for fuel reduction around communities, the president’s 2005
budget contained only $475 million. Yet, says Allyn, "estimates
are that it would cost between $400 and $800 million to protect
homes in Southern California’s San Bernadino Forest alone."
The plan that the Bush administration pitched as "safeguarding
people, wildlife, and ecosystems," has not delivered on its
pledge in California—where in 2003 the nation watched as residents
evacuated their homes and airplanes were grounded. During one weekend
in October, 13 people lost their lives, while 700 buildings and
250,000 acres burned.
Six hundred miles north, the Bush administration’s Forest
Service appointees have released their plan for the biggest timber
sale on public land since the advent of modern environmental law
in the early 1970s. The Biscuit timber sale, in Oregon’s Siskiyou
National Forest, is the archetypal "Healthy Forests" project:
widespread fires burn (in this case, in 2002), then the administration
contends that the best way to restore the forest and protect communities
is by logging in the burned areas and beyond. This despite the fact
that Forest Service research shows that the most effective way to
prevent homes from burning is to clear trees and brush from the
area directly around them.
In its final proposal, released on June 1, the Forest Service made
370 million board feet available for logging. That means between
75,000 and 100,000 truck loads of large diameter trees. Approximately
80 percent of the cutting would be in inventoried roadless areas
or old-growth reserves. Ivan Maluski, the Club’s lead forests
organizer in Oregon, also points out that, "the Biscuit sale
area supports some of the country’s healthiest runs of wild
salmon, and they want massive logging in these key watersheds."
As in the L.A. area, the administration’s logging plan has
failed to address the concerns of Oregonians. Unlike the San Bernadino
hills, the Illinois Valley, which borders the Siskiyou National
Forest, is sparsely populated—the largest town in the area
has less than 1,500 residents.
Elaine Wood—a Rogue Group excom member and self described
"chief instigator"—is one resident of the Illinois
Valley who has yet to see any community protection delivered by
Wood is also a realist. She knows that the best protection for her
home and others up and down I-199 will come from long hours spent
clearing undergrowth, sawing off dead lower limbs, and felling some
trees that are too close to her doorstep. Manpower and money for
fire protection might also come from local Bureau of Land Management
employees and community groups with whom she has spent years developing
But she would appreciate some truth in advertising. So when the
Bush administration pitches the Biscuit sale as an "investment
in the land and people," she balks. "I don’t see
any money," she says, "They just want to get in and get
as much timber as they can."
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