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New York City

Student Journalist
Private Profits, Public Lands: Old-Growth Logging on National Forests
By Sera Bilezikyan

Only four percent of old-growth forests remain standing in the Northwestern United States. Old-growth trees are defined as being at least 32 inches in diameter, and ranging in age from 200 to 1000 years old. Despite the fact that many ancient forests are on public lands, these majestic trees are in immediate danger of being logged.

Under federal timber plans, the majority of public forests are not protected. The United States Forest Service sells the timber on public lands at a cheap, publicly subsidized rate to multibillion-dollar timber corporations such as Wayerhaeuser and Boise Cascade. The corporations then clearcut the land, and sell the timber off at immense profits, whether it is to be made into paper or exported as raw logs overseas. The Global Free Trade Logging Agreement, under the World Trade Organization, made the international trade of timber easier than ever by reducing tariffs and increasing demand worldwide. The Salvage Rider, passed in 1995 and cleverly tacked on to a bill which provided relief for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, has further jeopardized national forests by allowing any healthy or fire-damaged trees to be logged immediately as salvage timber.

Clearcutting is a very expensive process, especially when compared with selective cutting of non-old growth trees. Old-growth logging on public lands costs taxpayers millions of dollars a year in public subsidies, adding up to $407 million in 1998 alone. During that same year, the only forest in Oregon that turned a profit was the Siuslaw Forest, by cutting only second-growth and thinning, rather than clearcutting. The Siuslaw has added more money to the Federal Treasury than any other national forest. This proves the possibility of a successful transition from a boom-and-bust economy such as the one logging creates in communities, to a sustainable practice focused on forest restoration and the creation of high-skill, high-wage jobs in the woods.

Thousands of species of animals, plants, lichens, and fungi are dependent upon the old-growth forest ecosystem to thrive, from the fertile soil to the upper canopy. Spotted owls, lynx, and red tree voles are just a few. The old-growth trees themselves, stretching from the northern coast of California to the Rocky Mountains are being clearcut at an alarming rate, leaving behind unsightly and barren scars on the land. In addition, nearby communities are left in danger of landslides or blowdowns. Soil erosion is often a consequence of clearcutting, and water and groundwater systems are also disrupted. No less crucial is the gaping hole the absence of our forests is leaving in the legacy of natural beauty that has come to define the wild lands of the American west.

There is a myth of protection when it comes to these forests on our public lands, and it is important that communities be aware that the threat to their forests is being funded by their taxes. There is no need to use old-growth lumber to make paper when there are various alternatives, from non old-growth trees to industrial hemp, which could all be used cheaply and effectively with less impact on the environment. Despite what timber interest group’s claim, the logging of ancient forests is not necessary in order to prevent wildfires or disease. Powerful timber interest groups are busy lobbying in order to lessen environmental regulations concerning logging, as well as to discredit environmental groups.

According to a recent survey by Davis & Hibbitts, Inc., a Portland-based opinion and market research group, the majority of both urban and rural people in the Northwest support an end to old-growth logging on public lands; 75 percent overall and 67 percent in the areas where logging and other resource-extraction based activities are prevalent. In other words, most people are convinced that it is time for the Federal Government to stop selling our ancient forests to timber corporations. In every endeavor from tree-sitting to appealing timber sales, environmental activists are sending a clear message to the timber corporations as well as the government. Ancient forests should exist for future generations, and for those in search of the very roots of this land.#

Sources: Oregon Natural Resources Council, National Forest Protection Campaign.

Sera Bilezikyan graduated from Evergreen State College, WA in June 2001. This article is an example of the kinds of things which she believed in. It is published in her memory.


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