They'll say whatever it takes to keep the subsidies rolling in.
A Guide to Countering Timber Industry Propaganda
A decade ago my brother and I fulfilled a lifelong dream of hiking
from Mexico to Canada on the 2,700-mile Pacific Crest Trail, most of which traverses
national forests in the Pacific Coast states. We fully expected to see great expanses of
wilderness, unbroken and unspoiled, and we did-until we reached the northern Sierra
Nevada. There we began to notice Forest Service signs posted on trees along the trail that
read, "Trail washed out. Take detour." We dutifully obeyed, and slogged along
the hastily hacked-out alternate paths.
Then one day, in Tahoe National Forest, we noticed
two men up ahead writing on one of these signs. When they saw us, they hustled up the
trail and out of sight. Their words in fresh marker-pen ink warned: "Clearcuts ahead.
It's a scam!" Intrigued, we stuck to the main trail, and soon found ourselves staring
across a massive clearcut that extended over the ridgeline. Attempts to replant had
obviously been made, but the topsoil had washed away and the saplings were dead. Not one
living thing could be seen.
Catching up to the sign's editors, we were amazed to learn that they were the U.S.
Forest Service employees who had put up the original warnings. Their bosses had ordered
them to do this, they said, in a cynical attempt to conceal the devastating effects of
This was not the last clearcut. From the northern Sierra, up through the Marble Mountains
and the Cascades, we encountered one stumpfield after another, along with
"reforestation" plantings of tidy rows of little trees, all of the same species.
I had never before been politically involved. But by the time I reached the Canadian
border, five months and four days after setting out, I was a convert to forest activism. I
began to investigate the Forest Service and the timber industry in an effort to answer the
question that kept recurring as we walked through the devastation: Why are they logging
our national forests?
The main reason is that we're paying them to do it. The Forest Service's own figures
reveal that the timber sales program on national forests operates at a net loss to
taxpayers of well over $1 billion each year. Not only does the industry get a sweet deal
on the trees themselves, but a substantial chunk of its overhead is gratis, courtesy of
the U.S. taxpayer. We pick up the tab for logging-road construction, timber-sale planning
and administrative costs, replanting, and even restoration and cleanup.
But this is certainly not the explanation you'll hear from the industry or the Forest
Service. According to them, logging provides jobs, offers fire protection, improves forest
health, supports rural education, and prevents deforestation in other parts of the world.
A closer examination, however, reveals that all of these claims are merely deceptive ploys
used to justify continued destruction of our national forests.
The Forest Service and the timber industry claim that logging our public lands is
essential for jobs and the economy. But the agency's own documents show that recreation in
national forests contributes over 31 times more to the U.S. economy and creates 38 times
more jobs than logging national forests. If we ended all commercial logging on national
forests, and redirected the subsidies into timber-community assistance, we could pay each
public-lands timber worker more than $30,000 a year for job retraining or ecological
restoration work, and still save taxpayers millions.
From 1979 to 1989-a period of extremely heavy logging on Northwest federal forests-timber
employment actually fell by about 20,000. The main cause of job loss was not environmental
regulations, as the timber industry would have us believe, but automation and the loss of
old-growth forests due to logging itself.
A lot of logging isn't even done by loggers any more. Enormous mechanical monsters known
as "feller-bunchers" roam the forest floor. A huge hydraulic clamp grasps the
trunk of the tree with startling quickness and massive shears cut through it in one swift
motion. The clamp then sets the tree aside and the monster-machine rolls forward through
the forest. It is tireless. It never complains about wages or working conditions. Its
hunger for our trees knows no limit. Given this technology, it is not surprising that ten
years ago the U.S. General Accounting Office projected that even if logging on national
forests increased by 55 percent over the next 50 years, employment in timber extraction
and milling would still drop by more than 25 percent.
Logging Forests to Save Them
As the truth about logging and economics was increasingly
exposed by forest activists in the '90s, the industry faced a public-relations crisis. The
old "jobs versus environment" rhetoric just didn't hold up, so new, ostensibly
altruistic justifications were invented.
The industry now insists that we must cut the trees to protect them from fire and disease.
Yet the Forest Service's own 1994 study, "Forest Resources of the United
States," revealed that tree mortality in the West due to both fire and disease
actually increases in logged areas. The worst rates were on private lands, where logging
levels are even higher and where less natural forest remains. In western forests from 1986
to 1991, tree mortality from fire and disease on private lands went up by 20 percent,
compared to 3 percent on national forests, while it actually decreased by 9 percent on
other public lands, such as national parks.
Fires tend to start in areas that have been logged because logged forests are drier, less
shaded, and contain flammable debris known as "slash piles," unmerchantable
branches left by logging crews. When fires do occur in old-growth forests, they rarely
kill the larger trees, which have thick, fire-resistant bark. Instead, such fires simply
clear understory brush and return nutrients to the soil, enhancing forest health. Even in
the relatively rare event that a fire does kill an old-growth stand, the remaining trees
and snags provide valuable nesting habitat for large birds of prey and other forest
species. Wildlife has little use for stumps.
In 1993, the Forest Service introduced a new logging program-"Forest
Stewardship"-that is purportedly conducted for the health of the forests. As public
opinion polls in the mid-'90s began to show that a growing majority of Americans wanted to
end federal timber sales, the Forest Service countered by reducing the volume cut under
its Timber Commodity Program and making up the difference with a steady increase in
logging under the Forest Stewardship Program. Today, roughly half of all timber cut on
national forests is supposedly for the forests' own good. Most of the biggest, most
destructive timber sales-including massive clearcuts through ancient forests and roadless
areas-are planned, prepared, and executed under the guise of stewardship. Most of these
are supposedly carried out to "reduce fire risk."
Last year, however, a General Accounting Office report finally called into serious
question the use of timber sales to address fire issues. "Most of the trees that need
to be removed to reduce accumulated fuels are small in diameter and have little or no
commercial value," the report noted. Because of this, Forest Service managers
"tend to focus on areas with high-value commercial timber rather than on areas with
high fire hazards" and "include more large, commercially valuable trees in a
sale than are necessary to reduce the accumulated fuels." The GAO concluded that the
program is "largely driven by commercial rather than safety
Indeed, the principal methods for setting the Forest Service's fire-reduction budget are
commercial. The cover of the technical course manual of the Forest Service's National Fire
Management Analysis System (NFMAS) shows a balancing scale. On its right side is a stand
of trees on fire. On the left, a large bag of money. The text openly states that
"NFMAS presently has no provision for directly and systematically estimating the
economic impact of effects of fire on wildland resource values that do not in and of
themselves produce market or commodity outputs." The message is clear: if it can't be
sold, it doesn't have value.