The foundation-dependent professional enviro eco-blogs are humming with praise for the Obama Administration’s recent desertion of the Bush Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR). Said whopper was an attempt by Big Timber lobbyists/lawyers and captive politicians of both parties to overturn some of the few actual protective provisions of the Clinton Northwest Forest Plan.
The area involved is isolated islands of the paltry remains of the once-vast old growth forests of the coastal mountains of Western Oregon (hence, the name). These lands are mostly in the notorious railroad “checkerboard” where advancing rail lines were granted every other section (square mile tracts) within twenty miles of the rails. They were reclaimed by the public in the early 20th Century during the brief spasm of reform at the end of the Robber Baron era.
The lands in question are isolated islands because the other, privately-held squares of the checkerboard were long ago leveled. With the “edge-effect” from those cut-over sections drying them out and allowing tree-killing insect/fungi pathways and with miles of logging roads crossing thru them, the tattered Public-owned squares rarely hold a full 640 acres of Ancient Forest. Though the five-years-in-the-making plan promised to cover “millions of acres,” it really is about clearcutting these remnants which number in the 100s of thousands of acres max.
The lands are managed by the more industry/extraction-friendly Bureau of Land Management (BLM), not the Forest Service (USFS) which has a more Multiple Use mandate – which renders the USFS slightly less rapacious. Among the myriad public lands’ management agencies, the BLM (“Bovines, Logging and Mining”) has always been the government’s primary handmaiden of extractive industries.
The BLM and Big Timber bristled at any restriction on strip-mining the remnant forests from the start. So, the Bush gang decided to run away from a welcome industry lawsuit and just rewrite the Clinton plan allowing for even greater extraction of the ancient trees than was allowed. Yep, they weren’t even off-limits in the first place under Clinton’s plan that reinstated old growth logging, which had been stopped during Bush the Elder. The extent of the Clinton Plan’s protective measures merely required more species and (most-importantly) watershed studies before allowing further logging.
The Green Establishment, which had no problem calling Clinton’s resumption of such logging “our greatest victory,” jumped at the chance to cry foul and raise funds on the WOPR. Every group even marginally connected to the coastal forests jumped in and the foundation grants flowed.
The WOPR which didn’t have a prayer of ever being implemented became the Lower 48 version of the Tongass National Forest and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) two-step; where every year industry pushes for more logging and road-building on the magnificent roadless forests of the Tongass (more on that below) and for oil drilling in ANWR. The Greens quickly join Industry with competing end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it clarion calls and endless fund-raising letters/e-mails. Next year? Same thing. An endless fountain of dollars and influence and easy votes for captive politicians on either side. Yet, nothing ever actually changes.
So, here we had WOPR with Industry up in arms rallying their troops against the “job-killing preservationists” – while continuing to export raw logs, wood chips and pulp from their own forested lands. We had the greens rallying their troops over a potential, never implemented, wishful thinking Industry wet dream. As usual, while many greens were occupied cashing the grants of their foundation masters, distracting their memebrhips and preparing the hollow self-congratulations, the real story lay elsewhere.
While the WOPR charade was front and center, behind the scenes a very destructive, even potentially deadly to much of life on Earth, effort was underway which has tripled logging on public lands with the full blessing of the Democrat-captive greens.
A few years ago, bio-this and bio-that became all the rage. We were going to grow our way out of dependence on fossil fuels, etc. Hopefully, we’ve already seen the folly of burning food in our SUVs. But a deafening silence has met the plans to thin out our forests for “Forest Health” and come up with ways to use the “product.”
The culprit here is supposedly the dead and dying trees (a quite natural occurrence in any healthy forest that’s been known by researchers for decades – as a forest in equilibrium will have a third of its trees either dead and dying – see The Redesigned Forest by Chris Maser ). The other culprit is the “overstocked” plantations that replaced the native forests that were cut down. For many decades, industry called the cutting of these forests “replacing the decadent, biological deserts of old growth with thrifty, young plantations…”
Now, the thick mono-culture plantations are seen as a threat that must be addressed. Of course, the main bogeyman here is wildfire, not the inherent loss of biodiversity these plantations represent. Wildfire is used to scare people into supporting wide-scale tree and brush removal. Yet scientific studies have completely refuted the argument that logging is needed to reduce wildfire. In fact, it’s been proven decidedly counterproductive.
Despite the evidence, we now have an army of young folks employed by the relevant agencies out in the woods cutting trees – dead and dying; but also thinning young stands and cutting 150-year-old large trees wherever they can – as in the current 95% “thin” of 150-year-old natural stands in Oregon’s McKenzie River watershed.
A few years ago, Bush Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne held a series of Town Hall-type meetings across the West. He rabidly pushed “Forest Health” thinning. The Big Greens jumped on board, as the idiocy of “Forest Health” logging came out of the enviro side of the equation in the first place. Any eco-group that backed this chainsaw surgery saw their grant portfolios swell.
But, even Kempthorne acknowledged that such an effort would create “tons of product” at a time when there was little demand. So, plans to utilize the forests for Biomass were rapidly unshelved.
The main use would be in steam-to-electricity plants fired by “wood waste biomass.” The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the sham non-profit that religiously blesses wild forest logging as “sustainable,” quickly jumped up and, along with other “eco-watchdogs,” declared this removal of massive amounts of biomass to be, you guessed it, “sustainable.” The fairy godmother of the Green Establishment, the Pew Charitable Trusts, rushes to claim any form of energy to be “renewable” while never once promoting true conservation efforts. (Just wait until this new, insane, one-step-away from Soylent Green form gets it’s “sustainable certification.”)
Utilities leapt in and added forests-to-electricity to their list of “renewable sources of energy.” The list already includes such questionably renewable sources as hydro-electricity, centralized wind and solar – even natural gas-fired plants! Many utilities offer the option of purchasing one’s energy for a premium from these “renewable” sources, regardless of the fact that all sources are pooled and one has no idea where their electrons actually originate. (Your electric dream car is generally a coal-fired car.)
Now, with consumers able to assuage their consciences with purchase of such “renewables,” all the pieces were in place: lessen the risk of wildfire (western forest are particularly dependent on periodic fires); create jobs (industry Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) touts the 56,000 jobs that the biomass removal will create); and, to quote the once proud protection organization Wild Oregon, “keep the timber industry around for when we really need them to clean up the plantations.”
We have over 100 (10 in Michigan alone) wood-to-electricity plants approved, operating and/or under construction. Another 200 are in the approval process. Already such wood burners like the first one along the Columbia River in Eastern Washington burn many tons of “hog fuel” per hour, releasing many pounds of particulates. Some estimates note that wood burning particulates (“carbon soot”) account for 17% of Climate Change.
Living forests can absorb 30% of all the carbon released from burning fossil fuels. Another study shows that one must remove 10 units of plant carbon from the forests to eliminate the single unit of carbon that would enter the atmosphere should it be left in place and possibly be released by wildfire; refuting yet another rationale for the logging.
(Here’s a video of how biomass-to-electricity works produced by the 25-year-old Kettle Falls Generating Plant itself.)
Already, “hog fuel” and home heating with wood has proven so “sustainable” that the price of sawdust has peaked (from $20 a ton to over $120 a ton), forcing farmers who once used sawdust for animal bedding, mulch and other uses to find alternatives. Even the price of cars is affected, as sawdust is used in the manufacture of many car interior items, notably steering wheels. Once all the proposed wood burners are on line, there will be little “wood waste” available as even the smallest twigs are removed from the forest floor – robbing future forests of sustenance.
The Dems Triple the Cut
While the self-aggrandizing greens were in full praise mode, the Bush/Obama Administrations upped the timber cutting line item in the USFS budget from $400 million to $1.5 billion with the addition of Stimulus bucks. Logging for “Forest Health” was institutionalized with the “Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.” But it really got going last year. The first major influx of funds and stumps was included in the Bush $700 billion bailout – written in by Wyden, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and other industry representatives. Both Wyden and DeFazio bragged to the press at the time that the “cut will double, maybe even triple.”
More tax money for logging has been issued under Obama. The USFS stump-creation budget has sky-rocketed with nothing but applause from the Green Establishment. The same folks have pushed rather than opposed the biomass plants across the board.
This upping of the cut – with more to come – puts the current administration on track to rival that of the last Democrat in the White House. You’ll never find the Big Greens noting it; but Bush, during his entire eight years succeeded in cutting in total the same amount as Clinton averaged per year! Not that it was for lack of trying. Mostly it was the economy that slowed the ecocide engine during Bushtime; though true, grassroots organizations defending their favorite places have played a major role – like the heroic Montana grassroots activists who have been excoriated by the Big Greens for their so far successful and continuing principled stands against the “collaborative” logging schemes of the foundations, Democrats and Big Timber.
The 58.5 Million Acre Fraud
Back in 2000, certain Democratic Party special interests were desperately trying to greenwash the Clinton/Gore Administration’s deplorable eco-degradation record to benefit Al Gore’s presidential run. After unveiling it to much fanfare during the election campaign, Clinton finally pushed through an administrative rule – on January 5, 2001 – mere days before he left office – that the Big Greens praised as “a great victory”; boldly lying (a lie that continues to this day) that it “protects 58.5 million acres of roadless lands.”
The Big Greens and Democrats, as always, are long on self-congratulations and short on actual accomplishments. Not a single acre was afforded actual inviolate protection, despite the throaty 58.5 million declarations. The so-called Roadless Rule quickly joined the Tongass and ANWR as a fund-raising bonanza – within days, the “victory” was “under assault” and more funds were needed to “defend” it.
The USFS quickly shifted the reason for logging to “protecting homes from wildfire,” the overwhelming majority of these homes were far from any to-be-logged roadless area in the first place. Business as usual continued: taxpayer-subsidized logging plans went through and fund-raisers went out. Nothing has changed to date: industry gets the logs, the taxpayers get the bill and the greens/Democrats get to “save” the same 58.5 million acres for the fourth time.
“North to the Future,” indeed
In May, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said he would personally review all timber sales in roadless areas of national forests in the next year. It was part of Obama’s pledge for a “time-out’ on roadless timber sales and road building.
Well, the timeout was of the NBA’s 20-second variety. Mere days after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s WOPR announcement, the result of Vilsack’s first review was not the moratorium on roadless logging which Obama supported during his campaign, but the awarding of the roadless Orion North old growth timber sale on Alaska’s Revillagigedo Island, part of the Tongass National Forest adjacent to the Misty Fiords National Monument.
Vilsack’s “personal review, then approve” betrayal echoes that of Clinton Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt who vowed to “personally inspect every drill site” as the Clinton/Gore Administration surrendered the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (adjacent to ANWR and equally ecologically stunning and sensitive) to Big Oil – sans any resistance from the Big Greens.
Within hours, the foundation’s eco-law firm Earthjustice – the Hamilton Burgers of the environment – who annually vow to “keep roadless lands roadless” sent out the fundraising letters.
MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Oregon. He was a plaintiff in the first successful Old Growth lawsuit which led to the flawed Clinton Northwest Forest Plan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org