Scores of scientists and the federal government's own national fire plan have
concluded that the removal of mature trees from forests increases the severity
of forest fires. Why then would the Bush administration use the threat of fires
to try to increase logging of mature and old-growth trees in our national forests?
That is clearly the administration's intention, as outlined in two recent memos
on revising the Northwest Forest Plan and the "Sierra Nevada Framework" plan to
allow logging companies increased access to ancient forests on public lands. The
move is being led by Mark Rey, a former timber industry lobbyist and a President
Bush appointee who oversees the Forest Service.
In the Sierra Nevada, the administration intends to "modify" the current Sierra
framework plan to increase the size of trees that could be removed, which would
allow widespread logging of old-growth trees in national forests. The administration
also has indicated its intentions to eliminate the current requirement to maintain
small stands of remnant ancient forest and to reduce the existing standards for
maintaining forest canopy cover. This would greatly undercut the Sierra framework,
which limits logging of mature trees in national forests in the Sierra Nevada.
The framework was the result of several years of planning and public participation
during the Clinton administration. Bush administration officials imply that this
logging is needed to protect homes from forest fires. Yet the Forest Service's
own scientific reports show that the best way to protect rural homes from fire
is to reduce the flammability of the home itself and its surroundings within 100
feet. Wood shingles should be replaced with fire-resistant roofing, and brush
around the home should be cleared. These steps protect homes even from severe
As scientists point out, commercial logging actually increases fire severity
by removing large, fire- resistant trees and leaving behind very small trees and
flammable "slash debris"--branches, twigs and needles from felled trees. The removal
of mature trees also decreases the forest canopy, creating hotter, drier conditions
on the ground. The additional sun exposure encourages the growth of flammable
brush and weeds.
Reduction of flammable underbrush can reduce fire severity, and environmental
groups have encouraged such projects. However, the Bush administration has grossly
misused the funds that Congress appropriated for brush reduction near homes. In
Sierra Nevada national forests last year, more than 90% of these funds were instead
earmarked for preparation of large timber sales focused on the removal of mature
and old-growth trees miles from the nearest town.
The Bush administration's potentially dangerous fire management policies demonstrate
the need for Congress to pass legislation to abolish commercial logging in national
forests and to redirect logging expenditures into brush reduction and home protection.
Until that happens, many politicians will continue to place the economic interests
of their timber industry campaign contributors ahead of public safety and ecology.
Chad Hanson is the executive director of the John
Muir Project and a national director of the Sierra Club. E-mail: chadhanson@juno.
Copyright 2002 Los Angeles Times