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The Planet

Behind the 'Forest Health' Hoax

The Planet, June 1997, Volume 4, number 5

Last Congress, Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), one of the salvage rider's staunchest proponents, doggedly pushed a "forest health" bill, S. 391, that would have permanently enshrined the worst aspects of the rider. Now Craig has unveiled a new draft bill that proposes to permanently weaken the laws governing all federal forest management -- not just salvage logging -- under the guise of "forest health."

Craig's bill would:

  • Override existing safeguards that protect water quality, fish and wildlife, clean air and recreational uses in national forests.
  • Undermine the checks and balances that hold government agencies and the timber industry accountable.
  • Limit public participation and judicial review.
  • Make logging the dominant use of national forests.

Craig has not yet introduced his bill, but he's held a series of Senate workshops -- five in Washington, D.C., and one in Idaho -- presumably as a way to claim "broad support" for his anti-forest agenda. Yet even some of Craig's own experts questioned the need for any new forest-management legislation, let alone his expansive, logging-first rewrite of our forest-management laws.

Craig got the most pointed rebuke in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, his own backyard, where Club members and other environmental organizations held a press conference and a rally calling attention to Craig's efforts to overturn our forest- management laws. The national forests of northern Idaho are damning evidence of the damage caused by excessive clearcutting, rampant roadbuilding and failure to enforce existing environmental laws. These are the very policies Craig wants to make permanent in his "loopholes for logging" bill.

'Local Control' Means More Logging Without Laws

Another bogus effort to "fix" the management of the national forests is already moving through Congress. The "Quincy Library Group" bill (H.R. 858), by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), is being promoted as a positive community experiment. But it would set a dangerous precedent by overriding federal environmental laws on national forests under the banner of local control.

Herger's bill uses the phony "forest health" argument to justify a huge increase in logging in the three forests covered (conservative estimates indicate that logging would roughly double). For example, it requires the creation of 40,000 to 60,000 acres of shaded firebreaks on these forests for each of the next five years. This perpetuates the misconception that there has been a major change in fire frequency in the Sierra, creating a "forest health" crisis that can only be fixed by drastic logging. But the data indicates otherwise; the congressionally commissioned Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project report found little change over the last century in the size and frequency of fires in Plumas and Sequoia national forests.

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