Scientists Oppose Craig's Forest Abuse Bill

(06/19/1996) - Washington, D.C. Conservationists today welcomed considerable new scientific backing in their opposition to S. 391, legislation introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-IA) that is expected to be approved in this morning's markup by the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee. Conservation leaders point out that an independent letter from 111 scientists asking President Clinton to veto the bill if it passes Congress represents the first time that a broad cross-section of the scientific community has responded to S. 391.

"We applaud this effort of scientists to expose the facts about how the Craig bill lacks credibility and has no scientific foundation," says Defenders of Wildlife President Rodger Schlickeisen. "S. 391 is nothing more than another giveaway of our national forests to the logging industry. Under the guise of improving 'forest health,' this legislation would create a cancer in our national forests. It is a forest abuse bill."

The legislation would open new areas to salvage logging by designating "forest health emergency areas," targeting areas with a lot of dead or dying trees. In these areas, it would weaken provisions of existing environmental laws such as consultation requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

By contrast, the scientists signing the letter do not consider salvage logging a remedy for fires, and in fact consider it a potential tool to make the situation worse by increasing soil erosion and other destruction from roadbuilding, by depleting fish and wildlife, and by setting up fire hazards through poor management practices. They conclude that the environmental costs of salvage logging and associated road building often outweigh any benefits.

Defenders' President Schlickeisen says, "The proponents of forest health legislation are advancing an unfounded myth that there is a national `crisis' in our forests. This letter sets the record straight. There is no national problem with dead trees; and what problems exist are there due to past mismanagement. Our forests need ecosystem recovery, not industry-backed legislation that will simply cause more problems."

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The scientists' release:

CONTACT: James Karr
Wednesday, June 19, 1996


Washington, D.C: With a Senate committee scheduled to mark up a bill that will expedite "salvage logging" today, 111 scientists warn that legislation misconstrues the true threats to forests and is not based on sound science. In a letter to President Clinton that also has been delivered to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the independent scientists assert that Senator Larry Craig's bill, S. 391, is misnamed a "forest health" bill because it will damage the health of many forests.

The bill, entitled "Federal Lands Forest Health Protection and Restoration Act," would expedite salvage logging, prescribed burning, and other often-destructive activities in national forests. The Craig bill would weaken certain provisions of existing environmental laws such as consultation requirements under the Endangered Species Act.

Recent fires in Western forests have put a spotlight on the controversies surrounding the Craig "forest health" legislation. Under the bill, areas designated "forest health emergency areas" would be open for logging. The areas would be chosen based upon the number of trees purported to be dead, dying, or in danger of dying.

The scientists' letter, however, states that dead and dying trees are critical to maintain forest biodiversity, protect water quality, and control pests. The scientists' letter demonstrates that many in the scientific community do NOT support salvage logging as a blanket response to fires, and in fact consider it a potential tool to make the situation worse. "In short, the real forest health crisis is not the threat from dead and dying trees. The real symptoms of crisis," state the scientists, "are increased soil erosion, depletion of forest, the decline of harvestable fish" and other problems caused by "overzealous roadbuilding, inappropriate fire suppression, and poorly planned forest management practices." The scientists conclude that the environmental costs of salvage logging and associated road building often outweigh the benefits."

James R. Karr, Professor of Fisheries & Zoology at the University of Washington, originated the letter as a response to growing concern in the scientific community about consequences of poor public land management. Although the letter represents the independent views of individual scientists, not organizations, the signatories work for prominent academic institutions, government agencies, and private organizations in thirty-three states. Approximately one-third are from the West Coast, with representation in all regions of the United States.

Karr notes that, "Three years ago, President Clinton promised a new era in public-land management when he called for strict adherence to the law and the need to ground management decisions in science," said Karr. "Although it had potential, the plan was derailed last year with the passage of the salvage rider. Senator Craig's bill resurrects the Northwest forest controversy and makes it a national crisis. We are urging President Clinton to oppose S. 391, and reject similar `forest health' legislation that benefits the logging industry rather than protecting the ecological integrity of forest landscapes."

In relation to using salvage logging as a "forest health" measure, Professor David Perry of Oregon State University says, "the major challenge facing management is to heal one set of problems without exacerbating others or creating new ones."

"At issue is how do we use dead and dying timber," states Professor Karr. "Do we use it to sustain ecological, social, and economic systems over the long term, or do we use it to enhance short-term economic gains?"

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Joan Moody, 202-682-9400
Mary Munson, 202-682-9400