Our National Forests
The Clinton Administration's Roadless Area Conservation Policy prohibiting new road construction in 58.5 million acres of roadless National Forests is being hailed by many in the environmental community as "the most significant national forest conservation measure of the past 100 years." It is also being condemned by many in the West and forest products industry as an illegal and capricious lockup of federal lands.
Paul W. Hansen, Izaak Walton Leaque of America
As both sides prepare for an all out legal, administrative and legislative war over this issue, the Izaak Walton League of America would like to suggest a common sense solution that would be better for the environment, the forest products industry, local communities and our National Forests.
We believe that roadless areas should remain roadless, with some allowance for emergency entry using temporary roads where unnaturally high fuel loads pose extreme fire danger to watersheds, private land or endangered species. We believe that much more wood can be harvested more responsibly from other parts of the National Forests.
Roadless areas are roadless for a reason - there is very little commercial timber in these areas and the expense of getting to it requires significant taxpayer subsidies. While these areas have very low value for timber, they have very high value for watershed protection, recreation and wildlife. This is why over 2 million Americans wrote the Forest Service in favor of this proposal, and why 83 percent of the nation's hunters who use western forests also support this idea - if emergency management is allowed.
Other areas in the National Forests have the highest value for timber production and are already roaded. It is in these areas where timber production should be focused. Most were logged many years ago for the simple reason that they are the most productive areas and have since regrown. Done right, timber can be harvested from these public lands much more sustainably and cost-effectively than in roadless areas.
Reliable growth and yield data, and science-based ecological evaluations, confirm that this portion of the national forests alone could sustainably produce around 6 billion board feet of timber per year. This is 50 times more wood than could ever be harvested from the roadless areas - at much less cost to the environment and the taxpayer.
The remaining forest should be managed to prevent fires, protect watersheds and restore the fire-dependent landscapes of the West - much of which is overly dense due to 95 years of fire suppression. Environmentalists, wildlife managers and the forest products industry should get together and precisely define "stewardship harvest," and then begin the necessary thinning of these forests. By contracting for the thinning rather than selling stumpage, then decking and selling the wood separately as a byproduct of the restoration activity, any incentive to overcut is removed. Scarce remaining stands of old growth timber can and should be avoided.
Because "stewardship" harvests have been a source of poor forest practices in the past, it will be essential to have careful definitions and outside assessments to monitor these projects. This will be a difficult task, but if the two sides would put as much energy into this effort as they would a jihad with one another, it could be done.
In fact, stewardship harvests on National Forests have been developed cooperatively between local communities, foresters and conservationists in several locations with great success. This concept is already the stated policy of the forest products industry's largest trade association and was fundamental to the $1.6 billion fuel reduction agreement between the western governors and the Clinton Administration last September.
This scenario could be the basis for an extraordinary opportunity to both protect the roadless areas from too many roads and the forests from too many fires. It could provide a consistent, sustainably produced supply of wood fiber to industry and the communities that depend on this industry. Perhaps most importantly, it would provide some end to the partisan bickering that has brought gridlock to national forest management.
(posted April 2001)