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Corporate Welfare in the Forest

by GEORGE WUERTHNER

The Forest Service is under extreme political pressure to log our national patrimony, whether it makes any economic or ecological sense. A good example of a needless, ecologically damaging, and economically wasteful logging proposal is the proposed $1.4 million Pole Creek post-fire logging sale.

Pole Creek is a good example of privatized profits and socialized costs.

According to the Forest Service, the only purpose for this logging proposal is to provide logs to local mills. Unfortunately, this will cost an estimated $1.4 million to implement, and even subtracting any payment for the timber cut, the service estimates that it could lose as much as $866,000 of taxpayer funds.

Worse, any logging has additional ecological costs that the Forest Service is forced to ignore or downplay.

Forest ecologist Jerry Franklin, as well as many other scientists, has repeatedly stated that there is no ecological benefit to post fire logging. Forests do not need to be logged to be reforested, nor does logging “improve” the recovery. There are, however, ecological costs.

Logging operations can introduce weeds which will need to be controlled forever (another cost borne by taxpayers, not the timber companies). Logging removes snags important for many wildlife species from birds to bats. The proposed logging will cause a decline in snags, and the minimum amount of snags that are proposed to remain will not close this gap, significantly reducing the recruitment of future snags. Removal of larger dead trees known as legacy trees will also reduce the potential for future spotted owl habitat — since dead logs on the ground are home to many wildlife species, including the owls’ prime prey.

Logging removes biomass and the nutrients they hold, which are an investment in the next generation of trees, from pollinating native bees and larger mammals like the Pacific fisher. Though the fire has reduced big-game habitat, logging will only make the losses worse, since retention of snags do provide some security cover. Logging can disturb soils, reducing carbon storage and moisture retention, an important factor for dry eastside forests. Even closed logging roads become vectors for illegal ORV and mountain-bike access. The list of impacts is long.

In addition to facilitating this logging, the Forest Service proposes amending its own forest plan, allowing logging in scenic corridors.

Worse, the justification for this logging project is to create jobs, but we do not need to impoverish the forest to create jobs. The Valdez and Deep Water Horizon oil spills both created jobs, too. Ultimately, that is a loser strategy.

There are dozens of forest projects in need of funding that the $1.4 million could be spent on, which would create local jobs and enhance public lands, including the removal of old logging roads, restoration of trails, weed control, wildlife surveys and many other projects that the Forest Service desperately needs to do.

Even the excuse that we need to cut public forest trees to obtain wood for home construction does not hold up to scrutiny. The vast majority of all timber cut in the U.S. comes off of the more productive private lands.

Even during the heyday of public lands logging in the 1980s and 1990s, less than 4 percent of the nation’s wood came from public lands. Yet this logging is nearly always subsidized by taxpayers, undercutting the profitability of private timber owners, making it more difficult for them to log in sustainable fashion because they must compete against subsidized timber coming off of public lands.

The Pole Creek timber sale is a waste of tax dollars, and has no public benefits. It is corporate welfare. It should be abandoned.

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy.

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George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

CounterPunch Magazine

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