THERE'S A HEALTH crisis in the nation's forests, the timber industry warns, prescribing a handy remedy: cut them down as fast and freely as possible.
That's the kind of greedy, self-interest quackery that ought to be quickly exposed and dismissed. Instead, Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho hopes to enshrine it in law, exempting timber companies from environmental laws and public review while they level swaths of healthy trees on public lands for big profit.
The bill, now before Senate committees, would extend for 10 years the controversial clear-cut "salvage" rider on last year's budget appropriations measure. Broad judicial interpretation of that has allowed the logging of hundreds of acres of ancient forests.
The rider will cost taxpayers an estimated $50 million to subsidize this timber industry bonanza. That's in addition to taxpayer losses of $1 billion for below-cost timber sales between 1992 and 1994, according to the General Accounting Office, and the $7 billion lost by the Forest Service in sales between 1978 and 1991.
The Craig bill makes no ecological or economic sense. Concocting a phony forest health emergency, these measures exempt timber sales from environmental laws (including the Endangered Species Act) and limit public challenges to irresponsible logging. The government wouldn't even have to justify timber sales by filing an environmental impact statement.
These measures encourage harvesting of healthy trees that stand next to dead or dying trees, green trees "substantially at risk" because of human activities, and trees that are in a wildfire area. They promote building logging roads that increase the danger of fires and promote degradation of the forest ecology, rather than healthy regeneration.
There's scant evidence of dead trees endangering our national forests, certainly no scientific agreement. Tree mortality and insect infestation levels are near normal in the West; clear-cutting or thinning is no cure.
Americans cherish their national forests for conservation and recreation, not as a pile of lumber. Congress should do the same.
Pub Date: 5/27/96