More logging at a snail's pace
Getting rid of surveys won't help the Northwest if the industry insists on going after old-growth trees
I t never made much sense for the U.S. Forest Service to spend tens of millions of dollars every year crawling around old-growth forests counting slugs and snails and searching for mushrooms and moss.
The Northwest won't miss the "survey and manage" rule abandoned by the Bush administration in a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the timber industry. The rule was a shrewd poison pill inserted into the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994 that crippled the plan's promise of a small but stable level of logging on public forests.
Survey and manage was a full-employment act for several thousand Forest Service contract workers, and a herd of environmental lawyers who repeatedly and successfully used the rule to block old-growth timber sales. In some years, federal agencies spent more than $100 million surveying more than 400 organisms thought to live only in Northwest old-growth forests.
That's federal money that could be used to craft smart timber sales on overly dense stands of second-growth trees, protect communities from wildfires, or even funnel support back to small towns still suffering from the collapse of logging on federal lands.
The Bush administration is right to order the Forest Service to get off its hands and knees and stop tallying lichens. Yet there's a good chance the timber industry and its allies will once again figure out a way to snatch defeat from a rare political victory in the Northwest woods.
If the industry sees the end of survey and manage as an invitation to bull its way back into the remaining ancient forests of Western Oregon and Washington, it's going to all but ensure that logging continues at a snail's pace.
That way only leads to more protests, appeals and lawsuits, not to the steady supply of logs that the Northwest needs. Instead of clawing for more old growth, the industry should be pushing for more timber sales and a more predictable supply of logs from the tens of thousands of acres of Western Oregon that are covered with too-thick, even-age stands planted 30 or 40 years ago.
The Oregonian's Michael Milstein recently reported that the Siuslaw National Forest on the central Oregon coast, once the epicenter of the fight over old growth, is providing a steady stream of logs without clear-cutting or bringing down ancient trees. The Siuslaw is now as unusual as a rare slug -- one of a very few national forests exceeding Forest Service logging goals.
This new careful and cooperative management on the Siuslaw forest is the future of public-lands logging in the Northwest. It's not about counting snails and finding moss, or about logging the last great old-growth forests.