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Lay of the Land

Protecting Alaska's Tongass | 10 Reasons to Protect our National Forests | W Watch | Clean Air Act? | Jack Morrow Hills | Using Up the Planet | Bold Strokes | Children Pay Price for Pollution | Fuel Economy | Updates

Ten Reasons to Protect Our National Forests

By Jennifer Hattam

1. TO BOOST THE ECONOMY. Recreation, hunting, and fishing produce 88 percent of the $145 billion generated by our national forests. Timber sales provide only 2.7 percent—and because taxpayer money is used to subsidize these sales, the logging program operates at a net loss.

2. TO PREVENT FOREST FIRES. Commercial logging can increase the risk of disastrous blazes by removing large, fire-resistant trees and leaving behind highly flammable piles of debris. Human-caused fires are also more common where logging roads provide forest access.

3. TO SAFEGUARD OUR WATER SUPPLY. Eighty percent of U.S. rivers originate in national forests, providing $3.7 billion worth of clean drinking water each year to 60 million people in 38 states. Increased logging, roadbuilding, grazing, and development would foul this water with sediment and pollutants.

4. TO AVOID LANDSLIDES AND FLOODS. More than 400,000 miles of roads, built mostly to facilitate logging, cut through our national forests. As the roads age and become less stable, they increase the risk of landslides. Clearcutting and roadbuilding also contribute to floods by reducing the ability of hillsides to absorb heavy rains.

5. THEY'RE FULL OF LIFE.  Our national forests harbor more than 3,000 species of fish and wildlife and 10,000 species of plants. Logging and roadbuilding fragments—or destroys—their habitat.

6. FOR RECREATION. National forests and grasslands contain 133,087 miles of trails, 4,418 miles of wild and scenic rivers, 4,300 campgrounds, 1,496 picnic sites, and 140 swimming areas. More than 200 million people visit them each year—and they don’t come for the clearcuts.

7. TO CREATE JOBS. Every million dollars spent removing roads and restoring forests creates 33 jobs, from heavy-equipment operator to water resource consultant. After a judge banned new timber sales on 17 national forests in the Pacific Northwest to protect the northern spotted owl, logging on federal lands fell 91 percent, but total employment rose 31 percent.

8. TO FEND OFF PESTS. Intact ecosystems have fewer problems with invasive species, many of which establish themselves on land disturbed by logging, grazing, roadbuilding, or off-road-vehicle use. (Nationwide, non-native pests cost some $137 billion a year in lost crop productivity, poisoned wildlife and livestock, and more frequent forest fires.)

9. BECAUSE WE DON'T NEED THE LUMBER. Less than 5 percent of U.S. timber harvests—and less than 1 percent of total world production—comes from our national forests, an amount that could easily be made up through conservation, recycling, and non-wood alternatives.

10. IF YOU'VE SEEN ONE TREE, YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THEM ALL. Discover the diverse beauty of America’s forests in "American Roots."

For more information on the environmental and economic benefits of protecting our national forests, see the new Sierra Club report "Restoring America’s Forests," at

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