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Congress Favors Corporate Welfare Over Our National Forests

Senator Daines (R-MT) and Congressman Gianforte (R-MT) continued their attack on national forests recently when they repeated scientifically-discredited timber industry propaganda that logging our national forests is beneficial for the public’s forests, wildlife, and fisheries.

What they don’t tell you is that some of the best elk hunting in America is in unlogged areas like the Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness.  Or that the cleanest water and some of the best fishing – particularly for native species — is in streams that flow through unlogged national forests.

Surely Daines and Gianforte know that Montana isn’t the best place for tree farming and that the fastest-growing industrial forests in the nation are located in the moist southeastern states.  In contrast, in the Rockies the growing season is short, particularly at high elevations, and the forests on the east side of the Continental Divide get minimal precipitation.  That’s why most logging on national forests in Montana lose money and wind up being subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

For example, take the East Deer Lodge logging project in southwestern Montana, where Forest Service calls for logging 11,309 acres of elk habitat, including 2,038 acres of clearcuts along the internationally-famous Continental Divide Trail.

Gainforte posed for a press picture in front of a clearcut here, but political grandstanding aside, the Forest Service’s own analysis says that bulldozing more logging roads for this timber sale will increase sediment by a whopping 39 percent in a watershed that flows directly into the Clark Fork River, which is federally-designated Critical Habitat for threatened bull trout. This same project will increase sedimentation in other area streams by 73 percent, clogging spawning gravels and killing the aquatic insects upon which trout feed.  How can this make the forests healthier when the state’s clean-up plan for these already-polluted streams calls for reducing sediment from logging roads by 54 percent? Yet, according to the Forest Service analysis, the timber industry will get a $2.4 million federal taxpayer subsidy on this project alone.

Daines and Gianforte want the public to believe more logging will stop large forest fires.  But in 2016, in the most expansive analysis of the issue so far, scientists found that forests with the fewest environmental protections and the most logging had the highest — not the lowest — levels of fire intensity.  Logging removes relatively noncombustible tree trunks but leaves behind flammable “slash debris” consisting of kindling-like branches and treetops.

In 2015 more than 260 scientists wrote to Congress opposing legislation that would weaken environmental laws and increase logging on national forests under the guise of curbing wildfires, noting that snag forests with their dead trees are “quite simply some of the best wildlife habitat in forests.”

Another comprehensive study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, thoroughly debunked the myth that beetle-killed trees lead to more intense fires.  A more recent study found that forests with high levels of dead snags actually burn less intensely because pine needles and small twigs fall to the ground and quickly decay after trees die.

Were they being honest, Daines and Gianforte would focus our resources on protecting forest homes by creating “defensible space” of about 100 feet between houses and forests. This allows fire to serve its essential ecological role while keeping communities safe.

Subsidizing logging with millions of taxpayer dollars to billionaires like Idaho’s Yanke family who own the RY Timber mills in Townsend and Livingston, Montana won’t make our forests healthier, keep water clean, or benefit Montana’s fisheries and wildlife.  It’s simply more corporate welfare and wasteful spending from Daines and Gianforte who once again break their campaign promises to be fiscally responsible budgetary conservatives.

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Mike Garrity is the executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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