The Need for the Act to Save America’s Forests
Matthew Finer, Ph.D.
For the past five years, the Bush administration has been engaged in a multi-pronged attack on our National Forest System. Here we present eight of the most significant prongs of the Bush attack and how the Act to Save America’s Forests represents not only a strong defense, but an offense as well that would lead to the greatest protections our National Forests have ever seen. The eight prongs are: 1) Roadless Areas, 2) Pacific Northwest Ancient Forests, 3) Biscuit—Fire and Salvage 4) Sierra Nevada, 5) Sequoias 5) Biodiversity, 6) Healthy Forests Initiative, and 7) Forest Planning.
There are four main goals of this analysis. The first is to clearly convey the vast amount of protection that the Act will achieve through its various provisions which end all logging in tens of millions of acres of our national forests, and which greatly limit logging in the remaining areas, far more protection than has ever been achieved before.
Second is to show how the Act is a precise antidote to the numerous legislative and administrative attacks by the Bush Administration against the existing forest protection laws.
Third, this analysis will hopefully dispel some misunderstanding about the Act to Save America's Forests, and provide an update on the newest version of the Act, which has continuously been updated since it was first introduced, and was last updated in 2003.
And fourth, and most importantly, this analysis will hopefully rally many readers to organize for the Act to Save America's Forests now, so that when the control of the Congress changes, the Act is ready to move through Congress into law and our movement is organized to do so. The Act to Save America’s Forests represents a powerful and politically viable solution to the chronic threats facing our National Forests—threats which have been taken to the extreme during the Bush administration.
In August 2005, the states of Oregon, California, and New Mexico sued the Bush administration over the new rule. In addition, Washington and Oregon both submitted petitions requesting the option of adopting the 2001 policy, but the Bush administration rejected Oregon’s petition in November.
One of the most immediate concern are states such as Idaho and Alaska, which contain extensive Inventoried Roadless Areas (9.3 and 14.7 million acres, respectively), but also have governors very eager to open up their states roadless areas for logging and road-building. (Note: the repeal of the roadless rule followed actions in December 2003 when the Bush administration exempted Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the roadless rule.)
The Act to Save America’s Forests prohibits road-building and extractive logging in all roadless areas greater than 1,000 acres, including Tongass National Forest. The Act goes significantly further than the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which had numerous logging exceptions which many regarded as unacceptable loopholes, and which only protected roadless areas greater than 5,000 acres.
2) Pacific Northwest Ancient Forests
In August 2005, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration violated the law when eliminating the Survey and Manage Program by not fully analyzing the environmental effects of the action. In November 2005, environmentalists were in federal court challenging the administrations changes to the Aquatic Conservation Strategy.
The Act to Save America’s Forests prohibits road-building and extractive logging in all Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Act defines Ancient Forests as federal land identified as late-successional reserves, riparian reserves, and key watersheds under Alternative 1 in the FSEIS on Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Related Species Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl. Under this alternative, essentially all old-growth and riparian forests are protected.
b) Riparian reserves. Alternative 1 designates 1.88 million acres as riparian reserves along perennial and intermittent streams and wetlands, including 7,300 acres of late-successional forest. Riparian reserves protect forest for at least 300 ft on each side of fish-bearing streams and 150 ft for non fish-bearing streams and intermittent streams.
c) In addition to areas described above, the Act also prohibits logging on federal land identified as “medium and large conifer multi-story, canopied forests” in the above mentioned FSEIS. These forests are dominated by conifers greater than 32 in DBH, and have two or more canopy layers. The study estimates that there 4,248,300 acres of medium and large conifer multi-story, canopied forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California not currently protected in Wilderness or Parks.
Thus, overall, the Act would protect an enormous amount of late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest, including virtually all old growth stands.
The Act to Save America’s Forests would prohibit all future so-called fire recovery projects targeting roadless areas and old-growth reserves. In the case of the Biscuit Project, The Act would have prohibited all the roadless area and Ancient Forest logging in the Biscuit sale, which accounts for 40% and 34% of the project respectively. The Act would also great greatly restrict the amount of logging outside the roadless areas and old-growth reserves (see below).
4) Sierra Nevada
The Act to Save America’s Forests protects an enormous amount of Sierra Nevada forests from road-building and logging, including all roadless areas (see above) and virtually all late-successional forests.
First, the Act prohibits road-building and logging on all lands identified as “Areas of Late-Successional Emphasis” and “Late-Succession/Old-Growth Forests Rank 3, 4, or 5” in the 1997 Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project’s “Final Report to Congress: Status of the Sierra Nevada.” According to the report, this includes 42% of the national forests in the Sierra Nevada.
Secondly, the Act prohibits road-building and logging on all lands identified as “Potential Aquatic Diversity Management Areas” in the above-mentioned report. Aquatic Diversity Management Area (ADMA) watersheds are greater than 50 km 2, have a natural hydrologic regime, are dominated by native species, contain a wide representation of aquatic habitat types, and are in “good condition.” The report lists 48 ADMA watersheds, covering huge swaths of the Sierra Nevada.
The Act to Save America’s Forests would carry out the intention of the designation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument to protect the sequoia groves by transferring control of the Monument from the Forest Service to the Park Service. Deliberations of the Chief of the Forest Service with respect to management of the Monument would be set aside, and the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the National Park Service, would instead be in charge. The Park Service is entrusted with the care of most of the other national monuments. The Act to Save America's Forests directs the Park Service to manage the Monument in accordance with the Presidential Proclamation creating the Monument, which states “No portion of the Monument shall be suited for timber production…”
The Bush administration is undermining the ability of our National Forest System to support and maintain native biodiversity.
First, the Bush administration has eliminated the requirement that the Forest Service maintain “viable populations” of native species on national forests. Under the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA), Congress called on the Forest Service to give some protection to native biodiversity. In 1982, NFMA regulations were put in place, stating “fish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations” of native vertebrate species. This important requirement was the primary legal basis for the Northwest Forest Plan and the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan.
In 2000, The Clinton Administration revised the NFMA regulations, but like the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Bush administration never enforced them and made their own revisions. On December 23, 2004, the Bush administration issued new NFMA regulations that eliminate the requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife. Thus, the Forest Service’s most important wildlife protection and the conservation community’s legal foundation for the protection of Ancient Forests and wildlife is now gone. The NFMA planning directives issued in March 2005 do appear to provide protections for federally listed species and very rare “species of concern.”
Second, as discussed above, the dismantling of the Survey and Manage Program and Aquatic Conservation Strategy puts at risk threatened Ancient Forest dependent species. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 106 species will likely warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act due to the loss of Survey and Manage. And the reworked Aquatic Conservation Strategy further harms threatened salmon runs.
Third, the Bush administration’s Sierra Nevada Forest Plan scales back protection for threatened Ancient Forest dependent species such as the California Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, and American marten.
The Act to Save America’s Forests requires protective measures for maintaining native biodiversity in each stand and each watershed. This includes maintaining “the viability of populations throughout their natural geographic distributions,” thus directly countering the new NFMA regulations removing the requirement to maintain viable populations. The Act goes further than the old NFMA regulations and the Clinton NFMA regulations, by protecting all native biodiversity. The Act protects diversity within a species (genetic and age diversity), within a biological community, within a discrete area, and even along a vertical plane in the forest.
7) Healthy Forests Initiative
The Bush administration’s “ Healthy Forest” policies will greatly boost logging levels in our national forests. In the summer of 2003, as part of the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI), the Bush administration created seven new groups of logging projects that qualify as categorical exclusions (CE). Categorical exclusions require minimal environmental study, minimal public comment, and are not subject to appeal and thus are difficult to stop. The new types of CEs allow logging of 1,000 acres in the name of hazardous fuel reduction, 70 acres of logging incidental live tree removals, and 250 acres of dead or dying trees, all with virtually no study or public comment.
Moreover, in December 2003, President Bush signed into law the first major forest legislation in a quarter century—The Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). The HFRA reduces the level of environmental analysis and public participation, significantly alters the appeals process, and undermines meaningful judicial review. The HFRA also creates a new type of CE which will open areas of up to 1,000 acres to logging in order to combat “insects and disease.” And the HFRA threatens old-growth trees in the backcountry as well by allowing extensive logging outside the wildland-urban interface. For example, the first HFRA project in the Northern Region—The Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction Project in Montana’s Bitteroot National Forest—involves logging of 4,000 acres of old-growth forest.
According to the Forest Service’s December 2004 Healthy Forests Report, 670,000 acres were treated under the HFI and HFRA in 2004. This area will rise to 790,000 acres in 2005. The number of HFRA projects will rise from 60 in 2004 to 107 in 2005, and the number of HFI projects will rise from 564 in 2004 to 642 in 2005.
The Act to Save America’s Forests protects tens of millions of core acres in our national forest from logging, and carefully guides logging patterns and strictly limits logging levels in buffer areas where logging is permitted. As described above, The Act prohibits logging and roadbuilding in roadless areas, Ancient Forests, and riparian areas. The Act also prohibits logging and roadbuilding in millions of acres of “Special Areas” identified by scientists and local experts across the country. Creating Special Areas is the primary tool used by the Act to protect the highest quality forests in the eastern U.S. Thus, the Act fully protects the core areas in our national forests from any forms of destructive logging and roadbuilding.
In the buffer areas of our national forests which have been logged in the past, only ecologically sustainable logging practices will be permitted. The Act:
8) Forest Planning
In addition, the new NFMA regulations will also lead to increased and more destructive logging on our National Forests. When Congress passed NFMA in 1976, it specifically instructed the Forest Service to develop regulations that limit the size of clearcuts, protect streams from logging, and restrict annual logging rates. The old NFMA regulations limited clearcuts to 40 acres, required 100-foot stream buffers, and restricted some logging in each national forest. The new Bush NFMA regulations do not contain any of these regulations, thus leaving our national forests vulnerable to larger clearcuts, streamside logging, and unsustainable logging rates.
The Act to Save America’s Forests would prohibit the opening of roadless areas in the forest planning stage and both guide and greatly restrict the amount of logging allowed in each forest plan. For example, instead of a return to the days of massive clearcuts, clearcuts would be prohibited and clearing size would be limited to a maximum of just 1/5 of an acre. Logging and road-building would be prohibited within 300 ft of an active stream or natural lake. And instead of boosted logging levels, cutting would be limited to 20% basal area every 30 years in each stand.
The Bush Administration is carrying out the timber industry’s long-term agenda of wiping out the entire legal framework which forest protection activists used to derive some protection for the national forests over the past three decades. The national forests are currently vulnerable to massive increased logging levels across the board.
Clearly, the national forests need a new comprehensive law at least as strong, and preferably much stronger than, the patchwork of laws and regulations that existed in the past. As this brief demonstrates, the Act to Save America’s Forests counters the entire gamut of Bush attacks, and goes much farther than any previous protections, and would lead to solid protection for existing natural forests and towards full restoration of native biodiversity and old growth forests throughout the entire national forest system.
Some in the forest protection community have argued in the past that the Act should just protect roadless areas, Ancient Forests, riparian areas, and special places from any logging, and remove all of the above prescriptive logging language that applies to the remaining portions of the national forests. Thus, the key question is how to best protect non-roadless/ancient forests: the status quo utilizing lawsuits, or strict prescriptive logging language. Under the former, large portions of our national forest system would be left without any real protections, logging would continue to degrade the surrounding forest ecosystems, and would repeat the same mistake politically that has been made over the past hundred years which is to agree to allow large areas to be sacrificed in exchange for protection of some others. We need an ecologically comprehensive plan to cover the entire national forest system, which draws our movement into a, powerful force, and actually has a chance of passing Congress. The Act to Save America’s Forests is the one bill that can fulfill those requirements.
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