Toss a hatchet at a map of U.S. national forests, and it will probably land on the site of a salvage logging
sale. Billed as a rescue mission for fire- and bug-damaged trees, the rider passed by Congress last summer
has instead spawned a chainsaw free-for-all. It suspends all environmental and forest management laws
for any timber sale on federal forests dubbed "salvage"--a broad definition that includes "dead, dying,
diseased, or 'associated' trees." In effect, the rider lets loggers cut whatever they want to cut.
Under the guise of salvage logging, forests are falling at breakneck speed this summer because the
"logging without laws" rider opens up hundreds of thousands of acres of healthy public forests, including
old-growth stands in the Pacific Northwest. Sites of hard-won protections for endangered and threatened
species are getting the ax. Sales that were once offered up as full of green, healthy trees are back on the
block, unchanged, as salvage sales. If just one tree in an area is unhealthy, the surrounding acreage can be
labeled a mercy case.
What's fueling the frenzy is Congress' insistence that the Forest Service double its planned salvage cut to
4.5 billion board-feet through 1996. That virtually mandates major sales in hard-to-reach and roadless
areas, a costly proposition. Not surprisingly, salvage logging is proving to be a loser for the American
Nationwide, more than a dozen lawsuits challenging the rider have been filed, and all have been shot
down. That's because the rider revokes all citizen appeal procedures and the powers of the federal courts
to issue injunctions to stop logging. Hope for a remedy has turned to President Clinton, who only recently
termed the salvage logging law "a mistake," and to Congress, where Representative Elizabeth Furse (D-
Ore.) and Senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) have introduced bills to repeal it. (Anti-environmentalists are
pressing ahead, too: Idaho Senator Larry Craig (R) has sponsored a bill to enshrine the rider's most
offensive features permanently.) Meanwhile, the carnage continues. Here's just a sample:
Fish and forests don't mix, according to the salvage rider. In Idaho's Boise and Payette national forests,
salvage logging continues despite protests by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Marine
Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho Fish and Game, and the Forest Service's own
scientists, who say that threatened chinook salmon are at risk from damage to the Salmon River
watershed. Since the rider has given the Forest Service precedence over other federal agencies, the Interior
Department was forced to withdraw its condemnation of the proposed sale.
In Michigan's Ottawa National Forest, a region with scarcely any roadless or unfragmented wilderness,
the Ten Mile Creek sale proposes 22 miles of new roads and 35 clearcuts covering approximately 350
acres. The Forest Service received no bids on its first offering, but proposes to lower the price and re-offer
it later this year. At stake is a mixed forest of white pine, yellow birch, and hemlock that borders the
Ontonagon River, a designated wild-and-scenic stream.
First Creek basin in Washington's Wenatchee National Forest survived a light-to-moderate natural
"underburn" during the 1994 fire season, but it may not outlive the salvage law. Thick, fire-resistant bark
protected virtually all of the forest's mature pine and Douglas fir. Nevertheless, the Forest Service is
selling 11 million board feet--thousands of centuries-old trees--of mostly live timber under the guise of
In Washington's Okanogan National Forest, an attempt by environmentalists to thwart a salvage sale by
playing by the rules was squelched. In March, the Forest Service rejected the highest bidder on 275 acres
of fire-damaged trees in the Washington Cascades. The Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, it turned out, had
no intention of actually cutting the trees, an approach the Forest Service found unimaginable. The feds
pulled in $28,000 from the next-highest bidder, a local logging company, but spent $200,000 preparing
the sale and had to add green trees to attract this buyer.
In southern Utah's Dixie National Forest, the Sidney Valley timber sale was announced several times, but
hadn't lured a bidder--even after the minimum price had been slashed by half. Only the salvage-logging
rider was able to breathe life into this unwanted sale: additional acres were slated for logging, and areas
that had previously been designated as appropriate for helicopter logging to protect resources are now
approved for tractor logging.
In Flathead National Forest, a proposed salvage sale threatens a grizzly bear management area a mile
from Glacier National Park; in pre-rider days the area's main priority was the grizzly. Forest Service
records indicate no "forest health" emergency in the Middle Fork, and an analysis by University of Idaho
scientists determined that fewer than 0.5 percent of the area's trees were dead or dying due to root rot
Despite the salvage-logging juggernaut, environmentalists have had some successes. In Northern
California's Lassen National Forest, a salvage sale that would have crippled the efforts of the Quincy
Library Group, a nationally acclaimed cooperative partnership between local landowners,
environmentalists, and the timber industry, was quietly canceled. In Oregon's Umpqua National Forest,
1,000-year-old trees in a roadless area were spared--but only after forest activists were arrested for
trespassing in a Forest Service off-limits zone. At the last minute, Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman
announced that the Forest Service could offer timber companies trees from less ecologically sensitive
areas. By then, Roseburg Forest Products had already clawed its way into 15 of the 299 old-growth acres it
had been granted, but now its saws will turn to an already roaded and partly cut area of the forest.
Environmentalists are happy that most of the Umpqua has been saved, but don't see such trades as a
solution to the salvage-logging problem.
And while environmentalists have won no court rulings, there have been some legal victories. With the
help of the Sierra Club, the Alabama Wilderness Alliance and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation settled a
lawsuit against the Forest Service over a salvage-timber sale in the Conecuh National Forest. The agency's
original plan was to allow unlimited logging of 45,000 acres--more than half the forest's total. The groups
provided surveys showing that Forest Service claims of alleged damage were grossly inflated, and the cut
has been reduced to 15,000 acres and will be limited to genuinely damaged trees. Since then, the groups
have gained similar concessions in the Tuskegee National Forest.
Unless citizens make their voices heard, trees will continue to fall until the rider expires at the end of the
year--and even longer if the anti-environmentalists have their way. Contact your local Sierra Club chapter
to find out more about salvage logging in public forests near you; write President Clinton and insist that
he exercise his prerogative to cancel salvage sales; and urge your legislators to support the Furse bill in
the House and the Bradley bill in the Senate repealing the salvage law, and to oppose the Craig bill in the
Senate consecrating it.