Destroying forests won't save them, conservationists say

Evidence that US legislation designed to protect forests and communities from fire hazards are promoting harmful logging activity is now beginning to mount, according to conservationists.

Unlogged, old-growth forests in Montana are now set for clear cut logging as part of the proposed Healthy Forests Restoration Act project. Copyright Native Forest Network

Unlogged, old-growth forests in Montana are now set for clear cut logging as part of the proposed Healthy Forests Restoration Act project. Copyright Native Forest Network

Projects currently being planned by the Forest Service under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act will not act to restore or protect national forests and are primarily focussed on clearing and logging, the Unified Forest Defense Campaign (UFDC) has stated.

The US law as it stands also greatly limits the public's ability to participate in environmental management decisions, the group has said. It is therefore difficult for those outside of the EPA to challenge decisions that could be harmful to old-growth forests or roadless wildlands.

For instance, the proposed Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction project, planned for implementation at Montana's Bitterroot National Forest, would mix a small amount of community protection work with the logging of nine square miles.

A large proportion of this area is made up of previously un-logged, old growth forests.

"Instead of a real community protection project, the first Healthy Forests Restoration Act project proposed in Montana in reality is a 6,000 acre logging project, including logging of huge legacy trees that measure nearly four feet in diameter," said Matthew Koehler, spokesman for the Native Forest Network. "The Forest Service is effectively holding the community protection work hostage by including it in this massive logging plan."

Another project proposed for Colorado plans to reduce the number of trees on approximately 7,000 acres of the Estes Valley in order to reduce the fuel loads in the event of a wildfire. This project would damage two roadless areas, which are located far from communities identified as being high risk.

"Projects like Estes Valley should focus on protecting homes, not opening the door to logging in places the public wants to preserve for future generations," Colorado organiser for American Lands Alliance Udi Lazimy stated. "It is totally unacceptable for the Forest Service to plan on entering roadless areas and clear cut large areas in the backcountry when planning projects to reduce fire hazards to communities."

Concerns had previously been expressed by other environmental groups about the way the Bush Administration's EPA was promoting increased logging as the best fire prevention option. There were particular objections to the President's decision to repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (see related story), but there was no material evidence to back them up.

Gary MacFarlane, spokesman for Friends of the Clearwater, said that roadbuilding and logging were not the answer to fire protection issues. Moreover, he said that encouraging these activities could cause severe environmental damage by polluting water and weakening soil protection standards.

"A better plan would focus on the areas around homes on private lands," he added, "this is what will keep people safe - not excessive logging that will further pollute the streams."

By Jane Kettle



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