"This proposal would make wood production the dominant purpose of our national forests at the expense of wildlife and despite the expressed will of the majority of citizens who want the Forest Service to protect our national biological heritage on federal lands," explained Kuhlmann, who is on the board of Defenders of Wildlife. "We reject the entire bill, which is an industry wish-list that might be best thought of as 'Loopholes for Logging' legislation," he added.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee workshop was the first of five such workshops on a draft bill by Senator Craig called the 'Public Land Management Responsibility and Accountability Act'.
Kuhlmann charged that the proposed Act would give timber companies preferential access to remaining unspoiled forest land and prevent ecosystem restoration. The bill would depart from the Forest Service's historic multiple use mission, costing resource sustainability and damaging recreational uses. Kuhlmann said that the bill accomplishes these edicts by:
- Imposing a systematic set of preferences for timber production,
- Subordinating conservation and environmental protections to the production of timber,
- Roadblocking the timely application of new scientific information and,
- Providing disabling protections arising under other environmental laws.
Written as a response to the timber industry's clamor for higher, expedited, and predictable logging levels, the proposed bill will severely curtail environmental controls and citizen input in the planning of national forests.
Defenders' President Rodger Schlickeisen believes, "There are many problems facing our forests, such as habitat loss and ecosystem decline. These problems are due to already substantial over-logging and mismanagement that favors industry. Our forests can't withstand more of the same treatment; they simply can not survive this bill."
Currently, trees in national forests are sold to timber companies under contracts governed by the NFMA. This law requires the Forest Service to make plans that insure local wildlife populations are maintained at viable levels and that forests are sustained for future generations. Intervention from pro-logging legislators and poor leadership at the U.S. Forest Service have combined to severely decrease the effectiveness of the current NFMA laws suggests Schlickeisen. "This is why our forests are in the incredibly poor shape they're in presently. We need to act to make forest management sustainable now- not continue to add to forest destruction," warned Schlickeisen.
Kuhlmann emphasized that the proposed Craig bill takes the wrong approach to forest management. "What we should really be worried about is the decline of ecosystems nationwide," he stated. In calling for greater Forest Service attention to the threats now facing national forests, Kuhlmann cited a 1995 report by Defenders of Wildlife titled Endangered Ecosystems: A Status Report on America's Vanishing Habitat and Wildlife. This report identified substantial threats to temperate forest ecosystems and reviewed the status of biological diversity throughout the United States. The report also highlighted threats to remaining habitat and wildlife located within the National Forest System. According to the report, nearly 30 ecosystem types have lost more than 98 percent of their area since European settlement. The report identified 21 ecosystems, many of which are represented in Forest Service Lands, as being 'most endangered'. These 21 ecosystems are in severe danger of vanishing entirely or of being so degraded that they will no longer function properly, endangering the species dependent upon them.
Kuhlmann suggested that addressing these concerns does not require changes in the National Forest Management Act. "Changes to management practices are required so that sustainability is encouraged in order to restore these vanishing ecosystems," Kuhlmann believes, "rather than logging and roading every corner of these public treasures."
Copies of Endangered Ecosystems: A Status Report on America's Vanishing Habitat and Wildlife are available from Defenders of Wildlife from the Media Department at extension 221 or from the Public Lands Department at extension 263.
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270