The Salvaged Forest Scam

The struggle for the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest is roaring once again. The current battle is over a Congressional act known as the salvage rider, which recently survived a repeal attempt in the House by a mere two votes.Congress passed the rider last year, suspending environmental laws that protected trees in national forests.Supporters of the rider say logging of areas susceptible to wildfires will prevent our national forests from going up in smoke and fill a critical timber industry need for lumber. Opponents say the law is a ruse to harvest healthy trees. This is true. Healthy trees are where the profits lie. Timber companies aren't interested in cutting down trees that have little or no marketable lumber.However, even if the intent of the rider were strictly adhered to, and the law were used only for harvesting dead and dying trees, the policy would still be flawed.The salvage logging measure originally came to us courtesy of the contract with America crowd, but the rider doesn't even obey the most basic tenants of the contract: balancing the budget, and increasing local control. Logging these national forests doesn't help the federal budget. It increases profits for timber companies, but it costs the taxpayers more money as the forest service builds, repairs and maintains public roads for private timber companies to use to extract the timber.And it doesn't restore local control, either. By eliminating environmental appeals it takes control out of the hands of local citizens. Those steep prices might be worth it if forest health is improved. But this measure hurts the forests more than it helps. Logging areas that have already been damaged by fire or have been damaged by insects, proponents say, will remove wood that is kindling for wildfires. Unfortunately, this is the same simplistic thinking that holds that harvesting trees is just like harvesting any other crop, like corn.Forests aren't merely rows of trees, like rows of corn that can be harvested, fertilized and replanted. This complex ecological system needs dead wood to survive. The millions of acres that have already been logged lack dead wood that is essential to forest health. To go in where nature is in its natural cycle of fire, and clean out the woody debris is to completely destroy what really is a healthy forest.To the untrained eye, a forest charred by wildfire looks sick. But the opposite is true. Dead wood, standing, or on the forest floor, produces habitat for birds, bats and salamanders. Fungi that forms on the woody debris is essential for northern flying squirrels that, in turn, are necessary for the survival of owls.The forest is a complex ecological system. But it shouldn't be that difficult to understand this simple fact: the dead wood is the food for the living forest. Remove it, and the forest will die.

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