Scientists Support the
Act to Save America’s Forests

(S. 977, HR 1376)

Press Conference with Senator Robert Torricelli, April 28, 1998, U.S. Capitol

Below are statements of the following scientists:

Stuart Pimm, Ph.D.
Gary Meffe, Ph.D.
Arthur Partridge, Ph.D.
David Montgomery, Ph.D.
Seth Reice, Ph.D.
Henry Mushinsky, Ph.D.


Stuart Pimm, Ph.D.

Dr. Stuart Pimm, professor in the Department of Ecology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is one of the world’s foremost experts on endangered species and habitat destruction. He leads long-term and on-going theoretical and empirical studies, most recently working with Everglades National Park researching the endangered Cape Sable Sparrow.

He is also currently chairing the scientific committee reviewing the progress of the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project in the Brazilian rainforest, pioneered by Dr. Tom Lovejoy of the Smithsonian Institute. In 1993, Dr. Pimm was awarded a prestigious Pew Scholarship in Conservation and the Environment.

Statement of Stuart Pimm, Ph.D.

The contribution of deforestation to the loss of biodiversity has not always been appreciated. Worldwide, the rates of deforestation will likely drive up to 80% of all species of plants and animals to the verge of extinction within 50 years. Greatly expanding efforts to protect forests might save half of these. The Act to Save America’s Forests presents a unique opportunity for the U.S. to demonstrate leadership in solving this global crisis.

The scale of this problem might seem implausible, but consider our own recent past. In eastern North America, one in seven endemic bird species—those found only there—became extinct during the forest clearing that peaked just over a century ago. In the state of Hawaii, over 90% of the bird species were lost as a consequence of human impacts. The fate of other species is not so well known, but they are likely to have been even more seriously effected. Presently, between 7% and 40% of various kinds of animals and plants are on the verge of extinction in the U.S., most as a consequence of our destroying their habitat. Birds are among the groups least affected. We study birds because declines in bird populations indicate loss of function throughout entire ecosystems.

These losses matter to us in many ways. The loss of such a high fraction of species raises considerable ethical concerns. There are economic concerns too. In the past, there has been a tendency to see the wood, but not the forest (to take liberties with an old adage). It is a simple matter to estimate how many board feet a forest may provide and so how much that wood is worth. Science now understands that such estimates grossly miss-represent the value of forest ecosystems to local communities and to our nation.

Ecology—a science that so often demonstrates the "law of unintended consequences"—shows that converting trees to timber on a massive scale through clear-cutting often has severe ecosystem consequences. Well understood scientific results show that such forestry often leads to serious problems of erosion, damage to streams and rivers, the slow regeneration of forest, and the vulnerability of the even-aged forest that does grow back to diseases and infrequent but catastrophic fires.

Ecosystems provide essential services, including protecting water quality and reducing soil erosion. A new understanding is emerging that joins ecology with economics. This process requires ecologists to document the variety of ecosystem processes and challenges economists to estimate their value. Some of these connections are easy—the loss of forests protecting salmon streams is a major source of concern to the many, independent small businesses that depend on salmon. Other connections are harder to estimate—how much local economies gain from the esthetic values of old-growth forests, for example—but the overall values involved are likely to be huge.

Forests are also the basis on which biological diversity, including endangered species, depend. Biodiversity, too, plays an important role in maintaining our activities, be they commercial uses or recreation.

I live in a state, Tennessee, that struggled with issues of clear cutting old growth forests nearly 80 years ago. Those who fought to retain an industry that would run out of old forests within decades anyway, lost to those who viewed the forests and their species as having other values. The result, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, attracts ten million visitors in a good year. Its woods, streams and wildlife are a national and, indeed, international attraction. Knoxville, where I live, is not slow to recognize the advantages that accrue to a city adjacent to such a park in its efforts to attract business.

Passage of S. 977 and HR 1376 would, I am certain, be viewed as visionary legislation by future generations of Americans. I support S. 977 and HR 1376. This proposed Act to Save America’s Forests includes important new insights gathered by American scientists over the last few decades. The Act embodies the best in sound science.


Gary Meffe, Ph.D.

Dr. Gary Meffe is Editor of the scientific journal Conservation Biology and professor of conservation biology in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

He worked at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory and has done extensive research on conservation biology, evolutionary and community ecology, and fish ecology. He has published over 70 scientific papers and co-authored and edited numerous books. Dr. Meffe has served on the editorial boards of Conservation Biology, Copeia, and Environmental Ethics.

Statement of Gary Meffe, Ph.D.

As a professional ecologist and conservation biologist, I fully support the bill proposed by Senator Torricelli and Reps. Eshoo and Maloney, the appropriately named "Act to Save America’s Forests." The bill is based on an extraordinarily good recognition and understanding of the best scientific information of the day and clearly is designed to maintain sustainable forests and streams, and protect endangered species and biodiversity at large for this and all future generations of Americans. I am extremely impressed with the level of scientific input that the bill reflects, its grasp of contemporary issues, and the clearly recognizable principles of modern conservation biology that constitute it.

The Act to Save America’s Forests does an excellent job of outlining an approach for long-term, sustainable use of our few remaining ancient forests, roadless areas, and other public lands, while protecting them from continued degradation, misuse, and practices that are obviously unsustainable as judged by any scientific standards. By replacing clearcutting with selective logging, the bill will allow for continued economic benefits and resource use of these forests while also protecting the wood resources, biological diversity, soil structure and function, general ecosystem function, and aquatic integrity and diversity.

As an aquatic biologist, I especially wish to comment on the latter. Aquatic systems in general, and fish diversity in particular, have been devastated throughout most of this country—and particularly in the American West—over the last 50 to 100 years. For example, nearly every native fish species in Arizona is declining, endangered, or already extinct, hundreds of stocks of salmon throughout the Pacific Northwest are declining or extinct, and the four most endangered groups of organisms in north America, as measured by proportion imperiled, are all aquatic: freshwater mussels, crayfish, amphibians, and fishes. This bill speaks not only to the sensible use and protection of our few remaining ancient forests, but also very strongly to the protection of the imperiled rivers, streams and riparian zones of those forests upon which so many of us depend for recreation, aesthetic enjoyment, and livelihoods.

In sum, this bill is unparalleled in its good and appropriate use of the best available science. It has nicely taken the models, data, and methods of science and applied them to real issues in such a way that objective knowledge is best serving humanity. Passage of S. 977 and H.R. 1376 would be a great victory for the American people and for posterity.


Arthur Partridge, Ph.D.

Dr. Arthur Partridge is professor emeritus, Department of Forest Resources, at the University of Idaho, Moscow and a leading researcher on forest pathology.

Dr. Partridge conducted important and conclusive long-term studies of forest pathology in association with the U.S. Forest Service in the Rocky Mountain region at the University of Idaho’s Forest Wildlife and Range Experimental Station. He is currently an independent forestry consultant.

Statement by Arthur Partridge, Ph.D.

The "Act to Save America's Forests" is one of the most unique and timely pieces of legislation to be introduced during the last decade. It enables a scientific, broad-based approach to protecting and enhancing precious federal forest resources by recognizing the dynamic balance of forest ecosystems – instead of declaring it as the enemy.

Recently, so called "salvage" logging has increased on national forests in response to a timber industry invented "forest health crisis" which points the finger at normal forest processes of fire, fungi, bacteria, insects and other diseases. In fact the crisis in the national forests is habitat destruction caused by too much clearcutting.

My long-term studies of forest diseases in Idaho show the loss by disease and insect activity in all age classes of forests to be less than or slightly more than 1 percent per year over the past thirty-eight years. These findings are consistent with Forest Service national level data.

Forests are structured systems of many life forms interacting in intricate ways and disturbances are essential to their functioning. It’s not fire disease fungi bacteria and insects that are threatening the well being of forests. Disease, fire, windthrow, and other disturbances are a natural part of the forest ecosystem and assist in dynamic processes such as succession that are essential to long term ecosystem maintenance. The real threat facing forests are excessive logging, clearcutting and roadbuilding that homogenize and destroy soil, watersheds and biodiversity of native forests.

The Act to Save America’s Forests recognizes both the sensitive and resilient nature of forest ecosystems. Remaining functional forest ecosystems, such as roadless areas, ancient forests, riparian zones and other core areas of forest biodiversity would be protected from further logging and roadbuilding. Outside of those areas, limited amounts of sustainable logging are permitted without the needless use of clearcutting, assuring a reasonable supply for the future of timber-dependent communities.

The emphasis on biodiversity assures that the soils and land, rivers, watersheds, wildlife, plants and trees all will be present in a balanced ecosystem that will endure for generations to come. Needless to say, this emphasis will also play a part in reducing climatic changes, protecting our water supplies, assuring recreational opportunities and a host of amenities now largely ignored, or certainly denigrated, by current management plans.

From the scientific point of view, this legislation is a welcome opening to include all parts of the forest, from the soil to the salmon in discourses and research. As scientists and resource managers we will now need to consider the interactions of living and non-living constituents plus the complex chains of interdependence that are functioning, natural states of biotic communities.


David Montgomery, Ph.D.

Dr. Montgomery is an Associate Professor for the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Washington.

He has done extensive research on the correlation between clearcutting, landslides and flooding. His research plays a vital part in identifying priorities for and solutions to the restoration of endangered salmon habitat.

Dr. Montgomery is leading a research program in Mountain Drainage Basin Geomorphology to develop methods for analyzing and predicting geomorphic response to both natural processes and human caused disturbance.

Statement of David Montgomery, Ph.D.

The Greek philosopher Plato recognized that forest clearing leads to erosion that over time can strip the land of productive soil. In the last 200 years, study after study has reinforced this ancient observation.

We know that clear cutting leads to decreased root strength and increased rates of landsliding in steep terrain. Recent fatal landslides from clear cut slopes in Oregon should remind us of the potential human cost of land use that is inconsistent with landscape processes. Exacerbation of flooding and landsliding is not in the public interest, so why do we manage our National Forests through clear cutting? Passage of the Act to Save America's Forests will end this practice on public lands.

After the Second World War the U.S. Forest Service embarked on the most ambitious road-building campaign in the history of the world. Unfortunately, poor road construction practices and deferred maintenance has resulted in widespread landsliding, altered stream flows and an excess of fine and coarse sediment in rivers and streams.

Today, addressing the adverse impacts of forest roads is consistently identified as one of the highest watershed restoration priorities in U.S. forests—in many forested watersheds in the western United States there is a greater road density than stream density. It is simply irrational to spend millions of dollars subsidizing further forest road construction when we are simultaneously spending millions of dollars to offset detrimental effects associated with similar actions in the past.

These changes are critical to implement today, as the ancient forests of America are virtually gone—there is no pristine forested watershed of any significant size left in the continental United States. The cycle of global deforestation that began millennia ago in the Middle East, moved on to Europe and then the Americas now must be reversed. We must save what little of our ancient forest is left and promote stewardship of our public forests.

But most importantly, we need to change the paradigm guiding forest management. The fundamental mission of the US Forest Service should be to protect our forests and the environmental services that they provide so that future generations can share the benefits that we have been blessed with. With such an updated mission, the US Forest Service can, once again, become a world leader in forest stewardship. Passage of the Act to Save America's Forests will bring principles of conservation biology to management of our national forests by preserving core areas of pristine, high quality habitat, ending the destructive practice of clear cutting and preventing further degradation by road building in potentially unstable terrain.

Past generations have left it to us to either find a solution or watch the tapestry of forest biodiversity unravel over the next century. Failure to act is not an option—we simply owe it to future generations to wisely manage our national forests. The Act to Save America's Forests needs to be passed so that we can begin the rehabilitation of what should be national treasures.


Seth Reice, Ph.D.

Dr. Seth Reice is Associate Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology and Curriculum in Ecology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He has over 20 years of research experience in forest watershed ecology and disturbance regimes.

His work has been published in many prestigious scientific journals including American Scientist and he is currently writing a book, to be published by Princeton University Press, on the need to maintain and restore natural ecosystem processes. The U.S. EPA has awarded major grants to Dr. Reice for research in watershed health and monitoring.

Statement of Seth Reice, Ph.D.

The Act to Save America’s Forests is an important response to the crises of deforestation and extinction facing our national forests. The Act would achieve what should be the key goal of America’s federal forest management: to maintain and preserve biodiversity and the natural processes that sustain it.

Clearcutting, Road Building and Sedimentation

American rivers and streams face destruction by sedimentation. Clearcutting, along with the vast network of logging roads, result in sedimentation and soil erosion into our national forest’s rivers and streams. Sedimentation degrades the water quality, impairs the habitat for fish and macroinvertebrates, and limits the ecosystem functions and services of streams.

The Act to Save America’s forests bans clearcutting, restores damaged areas by allowing regeneration of native species, and reduces road building by prohibiting further road construction in core areas of biodiversity. These are necessary steps, to prevent further erosion and will help rehabilitate our forests our streams, and protect our wildlife.

Large, Intact, Forest Tracts Are Essential to Protect Diversity

The larger the intact forest, the greater the diversity of species within it. In the United States almost 1/3 of all plants and animals are threatened with extinction. Forests fragmented by clearcutting and roadbuilding doom many species, which need interior, forest habitat in order to maintain their fitness and thrive.

Many types of roads, from logging roads to interstate highways, crisscross our forests. They divide and subdivide forests into tracts that keep the species’ populations too small to survive. Many species cannot or will not cross a road. Many, who try, die in the attempt. The outcome is local extinction of many mobile species.

The larger the animal and the wider its range, then the larger the forest tract it will need just to live. The bigger the tract, the less exposed forest edge there is. The near extinction of the Florida Panther and the Eastern Cougar is mainly due to habitat fragmentation. We have left these creatures no safe places. The Act would prohibit logging and roadbuilding in many large intact forest tracts including roadless areas, ancient forests and other biologically rich forests. This is critical to preserve the forest’s species and dynamics.

As a resident of North Carolina, I am particularly pleased that the Act uses scientifically based ecological criteria to identify "special areas" in the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests, and would prohibit logging in those forest areas. I have personally inspected many of these "special" forest areas and can attest that they have high biological and watershed values. It is imperative that they be protected immediately from any further logging activities.

Disturbances, Fire and Intact Forests

Disturbances, from windthrown trees to fires, are natural in forests and are essential for forest ecosystem well being. For example, fire is a disturbance in forests, but it is also beneficial. While disturbances kill some individuals, they also open up ecological living space for recolonization by many previously excluded species.

Without fire, natural succession is upset. In a forest where fire has been unnaturally suppressed for many years (50 or more), fire intolerant trees grow unchecked, suppressing and outcompeting the normally dominant fire resistant trees. Overall biodiversity is reduced. As the tree diversity declines, the habitat becomes unsuitable for a large portion of the forest species. Animal species are lost, since the animals use the fire tolerant variety of tree species for food, shelter and nest sites.

Clearcutting is not ecologically equivalent to fire, and it does not mimic the beneficial effects of fire. We need large tracts of unfragmented forests so that fires can return as a normal part of the overall forest ecosystem. If fire is unnaturally suppressed, a Southeastern longleaf pine savannah is transformed into an oak-hickory forest. The most famous fire dependent species of the longleaf pine ecosystem is the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. In order to nest and reproduce, it needs the tall, old, isolated pines which have survived repeated fires. Without fire, the Red Cockaded Woodpecker will go extinct.

Scientific understanding of forest ecosystems has advanced tremendously since the establishment of the national forests. The Act to Save America’s Forests would harmonize federal forest management with these new understandings, and would restore and maintain dynamic living ecosystems with native plants and animals for the long term benefit of future generations of Americans.


Henry Mushinsky, Ph.D.

Dr. Mushinsky is a professor in the Department of Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa. He is Conservation Committee Chair of both the Herpetologists’ League, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

He is past president of the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. He serves on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Species Survival Commission and has authored of over 60 scientific articles in peer reviewed journals.

Statement of Henry Mushinsky, Ph.D.

The writings of Charles Darwin are legend for their capacity to draw our attention to the value of studying organisms that dwell on islands. Building on the insights initially provided by Darwin, ecologists have established that large patches of land, like large islands, support more individuals and more species than small patches of land, or small islands.

Ecologists have established also that small populations are more likely to go extinct then larger populations, and isolated populations are more prone to extinction than less isolated ones. Using these established ecological principles as a simple rules of thumb, we have a basis for understanding and predicting the influence of forest fragmentation and clearcutting of large patches of forest on wildlife that is exposed to such kinds of disturbance. Without our immediate attention, organisms that require relatively large patches of undisturbed land are doomed to extinction.

The Act to Save America's Forests (S.977/ HR 1376) represents an outstanding effort to use good judgment for practical, sustainable use of the few remaining large fragments of forests in the United States of America. The Act is based on sound logic, sound empirical data, and recognition of the fact that continuation of current practices will be extremely detrimental to remaining wildlife.

Among the vertebrate organisms, we know less about the life histories of amphibians and reptiles than any of the other groups. As a terrestrial ecologist who specialized on these organisms I am particularly concerned about their future well being. We are already witnessing large-scale extinctions of amphibians, especially frogs, in the Pacific Northwest and a high frequency of mutations by frogs living in the upper Midwest.

Let’s consider the specific plight of a small burrowing lizard, the sand skink (Neoseps reynoldsi), in Ocala National Forest. This listed endangered species can be found only in a few counties in central Florida and nowhere else on earth. Previously known to occur at a few sites within the Ocala National Forest, recent efforts to confirm its presence have failed. Current research, outside the forest, is designed to examine the response of sand skinks to the practice of roller chopping the remains of clearcut forests, which is done to prepare the land for the commercial planting of sand pine trees.

Many amphibians and reptiles are directly influenced by current forestry practices because they cannot and do not move great distances from their natal grounds. For many, the gaps in the forest created by clearcutting are too great to traverse. Furthermore, those individuals that remain in the uncut patches of forest may be doomed because of small population size, isolation from breeding grounds, or the detrimental effects of inbreeding.

The Act to Save America’s Forests will protect the remaining 5% of America’s original forests, preserve cores of biodiversity for our descendants to cherish, protect sensitive riparian areas and watersheds to provide resources for all living things, and provide a framework for scientists to construct sound guidelines to maintain forests for future generations of Americans to enjoy.

The rate of decline of America’s forests is great, so great that if we don’t act to save what remains immediately, we will soon pass the point of no return. Implementation of the Act to Save America's Forests would halt and reverse deforestation of our federal lands.