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Sierra Magazine
Priorities

The Last Beast Place | Timber's Errand Boy | The Mud Next Time

Timber's Errand Boy

Industry proposes, Larry Craig disposes.

by Paul Rauber

Those who thought the abuse of the nation's public forests could not get worse after 1995's disastrous "Logging Without Laws" salvage timber rider have not yet met the 105th Congress. This time the salvage rider's most unabashed booster, Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), is back with a new proposal that would elevate logging above any other use of the national forests--above recreation, above water quality, above wildlife habitat. The salvage rider did that temporarily; Craig's new effort, a wholesale revision of the 1976 National Forest Management Act, would do so permanently.

Idaho's Lewiston Tribune once labeled Craig "timber's errand boy." As chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Forest Subcommittee, he is certainly in a position to do industry's bidding. And, in fact, his initial proposal reads like a timber industry wish list--hardly surprising, given that it is virtually identical to a set of recommendations made last year by lobbyists from the American Forest and Paper Association. (Accurate transmission of Big Lumber's desires was guaranteed by the fact that Craig's subcommittee staff director, Mark Rey, is the former executive director of the AF&PA.)

So what does the timber industry dream about at night? Here are some of the provisions of Craig's bill:

  • Timber harvests and other natural-resource "outputs" from the national forests would become mandatory and enforceable. At the same time, environmental standards would be demoted to mere "policies" and thus be unenforceable.
  • The U.S. Forest Service could impose fines of up to $10,000 on those it deemed to have filed appeals to halt timber sales for an (undefined) "improper purpose."
  • Once adopted, forest plans (and individual projects like timber sales) could not be stopped in court, no matter how much damage they could do.
  • Timber, mining, and grazing interests could meet with officials of the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management to cut deals in private, with no pesky environmentalists or private citizens looking on.
  • The Forest Service and BLM would no longer have to consult with the Fish and Wildlife or National Marine Fisheries services on the impacts of proposed logging on fish and wildlife. Instead, these agencies would only engage in "self-consultation."

The measures sound too extreme to be taken seriously--but then, so did the salvage logging rider. Craig is expected to tone down his proposals somewhat in an attempt to appear more reasonable; some Congress watchers fear that the resulting bill could sail through in a haze of bipartisanship, particularly if it attracts support from western Democrats. "If people don't mount a pretty aggressive effort to fight it," warns Kevin Kirchner of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, "it has a good shot. This is a package of stuff the timber industry's been pushing for a long time. With the Republicans in charge, they want to strike while the iron is hot."

One Republican who doesn't have the stomach for a fight is Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), traditionally no slouch when it comes to advancing the interests of his home-state industry. Gorton sponsored the salvage rider in the Senate, but says he is now "resigned" to President Clinton's logging policy. Why? Because, says Gorton, "the people" decided the issue when they voted for Clinton last year. Too bad his colleague from Idaho failed to grasp the same lesson.


The Mud Next Time

Northwest clearcutting is producing deadly landslides.

By Patrick Mazza

Last November, a drenching downpour on a 60-degree clearcut slope outside Roseburg, Oregon, unleashed a wall of mud, water, and rocks that flattened Rick and Sharon Moon's house, devouring the couple and two friends. In the same storm, a mudslide from another clearcut shoved a car off Highway 38 into the Umpqua River, killing Delsa Hammer of Coos Bay.

For the second winter in a row, the Pacific Northwest was pounded by exceptionally heavy rainfall. From Washington to Northern California, rivers bulged over their banks and rain sluiced off saturated land, bringing down whole hillsides and killing a dozen people. In five of those deaths, clearcutting was plainly to blame.

In a part of the country that has long been dominated by the timber industry, the deaths managed to bring home the devastation of clearcutting in a way that collapsing populations of salmon and owls have not.

"We've been talking about the dangers of clearcutting for years," says Charlie Ogle, forest issues coordinator for the Sierra Club's Oregon Chapter. "For the most part, it hasn't resonated with the public because we've been talking about fish and forests. Now we're talking about threats to human life. That changes the debate in a major way."

The deaths shook Roseburg, "the timber town," as Andy Stahl of the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics puts it. At a January meeting in the Roseburg library (donated to the town by local lumber patriarch Kenneth "Pappy" Ford), 200 people gathered to talk about clearcuts and mudslides. "There was not one Birkenstock in the crowd," Stahl reports. "All said they work in the woods or know someone who does. And all said we should not clearcut these steep slopes."

The roading and logging of sheer slopes has intensified in the past two decades, a relatively warm and dry period in the Pacific Northwest. "Many of the logged hillsides and forest roads were never tested till this year," notes David Bayles, conservation director for the Pacific Rivers Council. "What we're finding is that thousands of them are failing the test."

In December, mud washing through Myrtle Creek, Oregon, pushed five houses off their foundations; residents blamed 1988 salvage logging that stripped a nearby hill. On New Year's Day, seven homes in California's North Coast community of Stafford were destroyed and another seven damaged by a mile-long slide that tracked back to a Pacific Lumber clearcut ten miles from the Headwaters Forest. The company was negotiating a $3-million buyout of the Stafford homeowners at the time of this writing.

Not only small towns are being affected. In February 1996 the first wave of floods and slides, which muddied the water supplies of Portland and Salem, were widely blamed on heavy logging of public lands in the western Cascades. As a result, Portland finally gained long-sought logging restrictions in its watershed, and Salem is demanding the same.

Rural areas, however, lack the clout to stop unsafe logging--even when, as in the fatal Oregon cases, clearcuts have been flagged as potential dangers. The parcel near Highway 38, says maintenance official Bill Otis, was an area the Oregon Department of Transportation didn't want logged. But efforts for a land swap with the private owner failed. "Unfortunately," adds Otis, "it was private property and there was nothing we could do about it."

As for the land above the Moons' ironically named "Stump Acres," Oregon forestry officials concluded in 1986 that the place had a high potential to slide and damage structures. So did Rick Moon, who told state foresters of his concerns. The agency nonetheless issued a permit to upslope owner Champion International, which clearcut the 168-acre tract in 1987. Relatives of the Moons have filed an $11.3 million lawsuit against Champion, charging that its clearcut was a "substantial factor" in the slide.

Other local people are trying to prevent future tragedies. After learning at the Moons' memorial service that Roseburg Forest Products was grading roads and marking logging units on the slopes above her property, Karen Henderson attended a rally in front of the state capitol, joining 75 environmental groups (including the Sierra Club) in calling for a moratorium on steep-slope clearcutting and roading.

"Will we be the next people on Hubbard Creek to lose our home?" Henderson asked. "Will we be the next to die?"

Oregon officials were initially dismissive of mudslide danger. "The Oregon Department of Forestry is not in the business of protecting houses," area director Craig Royce told Roseburg's News-Review. "The jury is still out" on mudslide danger, he claimed, despite a 1995 report by his own agency saying that clearcutting on steep slopes could increase slide rates by 2 to 40 times. Preliminary results of a more recent ODF study showed the slide rate in clearcuts to be twice that on forested land.

That is consistent with a 1975 report for the U.S. Forest Service by geologist Fred Swanson, who concluded that clearcutting triples the chance of landslides. Those slides are concentrated in the first 20 years following logging, after old root structures have decayed but before new ones can develop. The floods and slides have made it very difficult for the industry to say we need more logging and fewer environmental safeguards, Bayles says. "The evidence is now crystal clear."

With human tragedy now underscoring the calamity of clearcutting, the political ground is shifting. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and the state forestry board are asking for voluntary bans on steep-slope logging of private lands, and the state legislature is considering empowering state foresters to halt dangerous logging. In addition, two prospective ballot measures would end or severely restrict clearcutting.

Up and down the West Coast, slide danger is adding weight to calls for listing the coho salmon under the Endangered Species Act. Sediment from slides, notes Sierra Club associate regional representative Elyssa Rosen, destroys spawning habitat by warming streams and choking off their oxygen. "If the ESA were allowed to do its job and protect the coho, mudslides like the one in Stafford might have been avoided," she says.

The slides also pose problems for Senator Larry Craig's (R-Idaho) rewrite of federal forestry laws, which would institutionalize the excesses of his now-expired "salvage logging" rider. At least two Oregon ancient forests cut under the rider, Tobe West and Yellow Creek, experienced landslides in the fall storms.

"Forested watersheds make their greatest contribution to the economy when they deliver clean water, abundant fish and wildlife habitat, and irreplaceable recreational opportunities," says Bayles. "When they are logged, it is economic benefits for a few and landslides and floods for the rest of us."

Patrick Mazza edits Cascadia Planet, a Pacific Northwest bioregional Web site at www.tnews.com.

(C) 2000 Sierra Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted without permission. Contact sierra.magazine@sierraclub.org for more information.


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