The timber follies

Tim Hermach

September 25, 1991|By Tim Hermach

THE House Subcommittee on Civil Service is meeting with top Forest Service officials to determine whether pressure has been put on government employees to permit increased logging on federal lands.

The answer is probably "yes."

In his decision May 23 to temporarily halt logging in parts of the Northwest, William L. Dwyer, a federal judge in Seattle, suggested that excessive logging was "not the doing of scientists, foresters, rangers and others at the working levels of these agencies. It reflects decisions made by higher authorities in the executive branch of government."

The forced resignation last month of John W. Mumma, a regional forester widely regarded as an opponent of increased logging, seems to support Dwyer's argument.

The Forest Service and big timber companies have tried to justify the logging of public lands by focusing on the effects reduced logging would have on local economies.

They have pitted humans against endangered birds, fish and other species.

But the preservation-vs.-jobs debate is an attempt to distract us from the economic realities that both the entities would rather keep hidden.

First are the deficits -- at least $10 billion since 1980 -- in the Forest Service's program of subsidized timber sales to the logging industry. Our tax dollars pay for mapping, logging roads and other services that make it more profitable for companies to log public lands rather than their own.

Furthermore, the Forest Service subsidies violate free-enterprise principles: The glut of public timber has devalued timber on private lands, putting innumerable small tree growers out of business.

4 As for employment, the numbers are plain enough.

Oregon's Department of Employment reports that from 1977 to 1987 the state lost more than 12,000 jobs in logging and wood processing.

This 15 percent drop accompanied a 10 percent increase in wood taken from national forests.

Why? Because at least 60 percent of all timber from the Northwest is exported unfinished.

Like a Third World colony, we have effectively turned what's left of our national forests into a source of raw materials for others.

The Forest Service follies have other economic liabilities.

According to Forest Service figures for 1990, total revenues from forest-related tourism, hunting and other recreation were $122 billion, while logging receipts from the nation's public forests and industries were $13 billion.

Few if any tourists will want to visit the ruined forests, clearcuts and tree farms that take the place of old-growth forest land.

Finally, there are the effects of unbridled cutting.

Forests are the lungs of he world, drawing in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

They collect and store rainfall for slow release during dry spells.

Losing them means losing their salutary effects on the world's atmosphere and climate.

An end to logging on public lands would make small tree growers viable again by ridding the market of unfair, taxpayer-subsidized competition.

The money now spent to prop up Forest Service timber sales could go directly to the employment of loggers and others in planting, restoration of fisheries and selective logging.

It takes more jobs to rehabilitate a forest than to destroy it.

More important, all this comes at a time when less than 5 percent of the forest that once covered North America remains.

Just 1 percent is protected, while the rest, primarily our national forests, is falling at the rate of nearly a million acres each year -- twice as fast as Brazil's rain forest.

And while 80 percent of Brazil's rain forest still stands, at current rates, the unprotected remnants of America's native forests could be gone by 2000.

In 1989, George Bush said: "The forests are the sanctuaries not ** only of wildlife but also of the human spirit. And every tree is a compact between generations."

Let's put an end to logging on public lands and put this nation's forest policies in line with its rhetoric.

Tim Hermach is president of the Native Forest Council, which seeks to protect the national forests.

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