The wave of forest fires across the drought-stricken West has garnered much public attention. And the timber industry has been quick to take advantage.
Faced with widespread public opposition to logging in our national forests, the timber industry has become crafty at repackaging the old destructive logging-as-usual under benevolent new titles.
Let's not forget that these are the same folks who said that old growth trees needed to be cut down because they were "decadent," "overmature" and "biological deserts."
So now the timber industry is saying that it needs to log for forest health and to prevent forest fires. It is interesting how the timber industry's answer to any issue is always the same: more logging.
Let's take a deep breath and consider the facts.
Logging increases fire dangers. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project found that logging, more than any other activity, has increased fire severity.
This is common sense. After all, logging removes the large trees that are most fire resistant. It also opens up the forest canopy, letting in more sunlight, making the forest hotter and drier.
We must never forget that fire is a natural and necessary part of the forest ecosystem. Normally, fire will rejuvenate the forest, releasing nutrients and opening up seed cones. However, logging and fire suppression have left these forests more likely to burn hotter.
Because of this, conservation biologists have raised the possibility that prescribed burning may need to be supplemented with "mechanical treatments" in some areas to restore a healthy fire cycle. These mechanical treatments may involve cutting, but they are very different from what we all think of as logging.
As the Forest Service's fire specialist Denny Truesdale stated, "What is needed is to take care of the underbrush and dry twigs. The majority of the material that we need to take out is not commercial timber. It is up to 3 to 4 inches in diameter. We can't sell it. "
So now the timber industry is trying to pull a bait-and-switch, calling these mechanical treatments logging, and then acting as though logging is good for fire risk reduction. But the timber industry doesn't want to prune brush. It wants to cut the big fire-resistant trees, because big trees mean big profits.
At the same time, the U.S. Forest Service and the Clinton-Gore Administration, under pressure from timber interests, are developing a massive program to "treat" 40 million acres of national forest land.
Unfortunately, they are modeling it after the destructive Fort Valley timber sale in Arizona. This project sets a dangerous precedent.
While presented as restoration, this timber sale logged 90 percent of the trees in the "treatment" area, including many large trees up to 21 inches in diameter. It also destroyed habitat for native wildlife such as Abert's squirrel, the Mexican spotted owl and the goshawk.
Our forests need genuine restoration, not repackaged timber sales. How many times are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes of plundering our natural resources for profit rather than upholding our public trust values?
Ending commercial logging of national forests would not only stop the damage and fire danger created by logging, it would also free up the funding needed for ecological restoration.
Research by the John Muir Project has revealed that the federal timber sale program currently operates a net loss to taxpayers of over a billion dollars per year. We are actually paying for timber companies to destroy our national forests!
Fortunately, there is an important bill in Congress called the National Forest Protection and Restoration Act which will end the destructive and wasteful federal timber sales program. It then redirects the federal timber subsidy into an independently science-based, non-commercial ecological restoration program for our public lands.
The bill also provides support for rural communities and schools, pays for research to reduce wood consumption and saves taxpayers more than $500 million in the first year alone.
Let's support genuine, non-commercial restoration, not the timber industry's bait-and-switch logging schemes. The logging controversy is not simply a question of how we will manage our forests but how we will learn to manage ourselves in the fragile ecosystems of our shared planetary home.
Julia "Butterfly" Hill, director of the Circle of Life Foundation and the author of "The Legacy of Luna," lived in a 180-foot high redwood tree for 738 days to protest logging of old-growth forests. E-mail: luna@CircleOfLifeFoundation.org