In addition to pretending to be a crusader for forest health, the timber industry has
cast itself as the savior of rural education. This ruse is made possible by a federal law
enacted nearly a century ago requiring that 25 percent of timber-sale revenues from
national forests go to rural counties for road maintenance and education. The result is
that school systems have gotten hooked on revenue from deforestation, and fluctuations in
the timber economy have made school budgets unpredictable.
Both the Clinton administration and the Forest Service have proposed legislation to
de-link education funding from timber sales and make guaranteed payments for schools
directly from the government. The timber industry is vehemently opposed to such a move
because this would reduce its political leverage.
Under heavy timber-industry pressure, the House passed H.R. 2389, the Secure Rural Schools
and Community Self-Determination Act, which keeps rural education dependent on
public-lands deforestation. At press time, an equally destructive companion bill, S. 1608,
was under consideration by the Senate. The bills would set county payments at fixed levels
but would raid funds from non-timber programs (such as fish and wildlife) if timber
revenue wasn't sufficient, putting pressure on agency managers to get the cut out. The
bills also require a substantial portion of the payments to be used not for education, but
rather for additional logging projects on national forests.
Logging as Foreign Policy
As if the rationalizations about jobs, forest health, fire protection, and education
weren't hard enough to swallow, timber executives and their friends in Congress are now
insisting that halting logging on our national forests would create "shifting
economic pressures" to increase logging in forests abroad. Forest protection at home,
they now argue, triggers deforestation elsewhere.
In fact, less than 3 percent of domestic wood comes from national forests. Even if
industry's contentions about worldwide logging were true, any shift in supply would have a
minute effect on the global timber market. What's more, the industry's own research
provides little support for the "shifting pressures" rhetoric. A recent study in
the American Journal of Agricultural Economics estimates that for every 50 acres of forest
protected in North America and Europe, only 2.5 acres of forest would be lost collectively
throughout Asia, South America, Africa, and the former Soviet Union. And this study
doesn't address the extent to which a shift to non-wood alternatives could compensate for
reduced domestic logging.
This shift in supply could well go in an entirely different direction than the timber
industry would have us believe-not to foreign countries, but to substitutes for wood.
Ending timber sales on national forests and removing heavily subsidized public timber from
the market would enable non-wood products to be more competitive. For example, overall
costs of building with recycled light-gauge steel are only 3 percent greater than those of
wood, but even such a small difference causes contractors to choose wood framing. If not
for the unfairly low prices created by the federal timber program, says Michael Roddy,
president of Green Framing Systems, recycled steel could meet significantly more of the
demand for construction materials.
In any case, the timber industry's predictions of rising wood demand have turned out to be
wishful thinking. Earlier reports incorrectly projected that by the year 2000 wood
consumption would be 70 percent higher than it now is. Global consumption of wood in 1998,
however, was actually about the same as in 1984, having peaked in the late '80s and
decreased slightly since then.
Predictions that the demand for wood can only be met by continuing or increasing logging
assume no increase in recycling or development of alternatives. Yet there is not so much a
demand for wood itself as a demand for paper and construction products-products that can
be easily derived from non-forest sources and recycled materials.
The federal government, the largest single consumer of paper in the world, provides an
example of the potential for change. The executive branch alone consumes 20.9 billion
pages of copy paper each year. Although federal agencies have increased the recycled
content of their copy paper in the last two years, thanks to an administrative mandate,
over two-thirds of it is still derived from virgin wood fiber. Executive Order 13101
required suppliers to provide paper with at least 30 percent post-consumer recycled
content. When it was proposed, paper manufacturers howled, insisting that they could not
meet such a requirement. Nevertheless, only two years later, suppliers have adjusted, and
federal agencies are now in 95 percent compliance.
The quantity of paper consumed by the judicial and legislative branches of the federal
government is unknown, but if they use as much as the executive branch, then the federal
government's total consumption would equal roughly the amount of paper produced through
commercial logging on national forests annually. (More than one-third of the timber cut on
national forests-from 150,000 to 250,000 acres each year-goes into paper products.)
Stronger recycling efforts could also greatly reduce the need for lumber. Figures released
last year by the Forest Service's Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, show that
29.6 million tons of recoverable, usable waste wood is produced in the United States each
year from three major sources: municipal solid waste, demolition and construction waste,
and the timber milling process. This is the equivalent of over 45 billion board feet of
timber, nearly half of all wood consumed in the United States each year, and 15 times the
amount of timber cut from national forests annually. Every year this quantity of wood ends
up in landfills.
The Real Global Issues
Logging our national forests does have a global impact, but it's the exact opposite of
what the timber industry alleges. The United States, for better or worse, is the
trendsetter in international policies affecting forests. For example, the United States
was widely blamed by conservationists for the failure of the 1992 environmental summit in
Rio de Janeiro to deliver a meaningful forest-protection treaty. Less-developed nations
pointed out that the United States is still logging its last remaining ancient
forests-even on public lands. Why then, they argued, should they institute strong measures
to preserve their own forests?
Forest protection begets forest protection. Halting logging
on federal lands would encourage preservation of both U.S. private lands and forests
abroad. According to Mauricio Fierro of Geo-Austral, a Chilean forest-protection
organization, "As much as we appreciate direct support from people in the United
States, the most helpful thing you could do for us would be to stop logging in your own
national forests." Similarly, Chris Genovali of the British Columbia-based Raincoast
Conservation Society says, "Ending logging on U.S. national-forest land will set an
important precedent for ancient-forest protection and will create positive political
momentum internationally, which in turn could end up helping forest protection efforts in
As citizens of this country, we are faced with a choice: We can, through our silence,
allow the timber industry to continue picking our pockets and plundering our public
forests. Or we can hold our elected officials accountable and demand that they end the
timber sales programs on our national forests.
Chad Hanson is a national director of the Sierra Club, and is the executive director of
the John Muir Project. He can be reached at (626) 792-0109, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 30 N. Raymond Ave.,
#514, Pasadena, CA 91103.