Has anything changed?

  • 30/03/1998

Has anything changed? Communities all over California are trying to find solutions to the jobs-vs-the-environment controversy. In these efforts at community forestry, the qlg is not isolated. Bioregional councils have been established in northern California to promote partnerships in managing ecosystems across mixed ownership. There is the Lead Partnership Group, a coalition of community groups working with the fs on co-management of public lands, and the Hayfork Adaptive Management Area in northern California, among others.

However, despite these changes at the local level, little has changed at the national level. Congress and - to a lesser extent - the administration continue to vacillate between protecting the environment and giving into the needs of the forest products industry.

For some time after the Forest Conference, the Clinton administration seemed dedicated to improving the management of public forests in the western parts of the us . The Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team was assembled to evaluate different forest management options and to make its recommendations to the president. The president's Northwest Forest Plan was released on July 1, 1993. Under the plan, watersheds rather than specific species were to be used as the fundamental planning block. The plan created watershed-based reserve areas to protect old growth forests and the habitat of specific species, especially the Spotted Owl. As a direct consequence of the creation of the plan, judge Dwyer lifted the injunctions on timber felling in June 1994. Federal timber was once again offered for sale and a sustainable level of harvest was allowed.

In 1995, however, the Gorton Rider to the Recession Bill was passed. As per the terms of the rider, which was written by representative Slade Gorton of Washington state (who is supported by the timber industry), the fs was required to sell a substantial amount of timber from the national forests over the course of the next three years. Furthermore, the rider suspended all environmental laws and judicial process with regard to the timber sale. Finally, the legislation shielded timber companies until the end of 1996 from having to comply with the laws protecting water and endangered species, statutes that had been used in the past to stop logging. The rider was vetoed at first, but later signed by the president. A litany of protests and legal challenges to the rider followed. In the summer of 1996, the president finally accepted his mistake and ordered the fs to stop selling green trees as "salvage".

Little has changed for environmental organisations. They not only continue to fight Congress, the administration and the fs but have found a new enemy - local community groups. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club say that national forests should be managed for all Americans. McCloskey points out that while communities feel they are getting empowered, the industry is happier dealing with local communities. These can be easily pressurised into towing the industry's line, rather than fighting experts of the Environmental Protection Agency at the national level, or representatives of national environmental groups. Local communities do not have the resources to put up a fight.

Besieged by environmentalists, the fs has turned to felling timber in the name of forest health to maintain jobs. According to them, fire is the greatest threat to the health of old growth forests. Timber felling will help reduce the risk of fire, thus saving the forests. Consequently, "salvage felling" is on the rise. In a recent article in Harper magazine, the author Paul Roberts notes that between 1988 and 1989, salvage receipts of the fs quadrupled from us $32 million to $144 million.

The timber industry is doing what is necessary to reap profits. On the one hand, the industry continues to pressurise Congress into enacting laws that will increase timber harvest from public lands. On the other, it is trying to reach agreements with local community groups to put an end to the litigation and to reopen national forests to felling, even if the agreements call for felling on a smaller scale. The latter, it seems, is better than nothing. The us may well be on the way to understand the importance of involving local communities in forest management.

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