There’s a Much Better Way to Create Forest Jobs Than Ron Wyden’s Big Timber Welfare Act, Pass NREPA Instead

Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden recently introduced a bill (S.3684) that uses the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to throw another $10.6 billion into the Forest Service budget.  That’s on top of the $5.7 billion Congress already appropriated to the agency this year and comes out to a whopping $45 million a day, most of which would be used to trash the environment, destroy fish and wildlife habitat, and further imperil endangered species by bulldozing more logging roads and clearcutting our dwindling national forests.  And of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with the pandemic.

There’s a growing body of scientific evidence that suggests deforestation increases the risk of global pandemics.  So the obvious question is why anyone, let alone an Oregon Democratic senator, would support spending even more scarce taxpayer funds to subsidize the looting of our national forests instead of actually helping fight coronavirus and provide assistance for those most in need.

As Senator Wyden admits, he enlisted the help of the timber industry when he drafted his bill and apparently decided the best way to get Republican support was to give billions of dollars more in welfare to Big Timber– and pay them to do the exact opposite of what scientists are telling us to do to avoid more pandemics, which is quit destroying our planet’s forests.  Given President Trump’s latest Executive Order suspending both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act by declaring an “economic emergency,” it is absolutely certain that vast and irreversible environmental destruction will result.

Want to create jobs?  Pass the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act
Why is it that so many politicians think the best way to help working people is to give more money to billionaires?  The so-called “trickle down” theory lauded by President Reagan more than 30 years ago has been decisively proven false, as was the supposed economic boost from Trump’s massive tax breaks for the already wealthy.  Simply put, it doesn’t work.  What we got instead was massive corporate stock buy-backs, huge bonuses for CEOs and, as usual, a few crumbs fell off the table for the rest of the populace.

There is, however, a much more sensible way to create forest jobs than subsidizing Big Timber to loot what’s left of our unroaded public lands so they can clearcut the few big trees remaining in virgin forests.   The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act is now before Congress as H.R. 1321 in the House and S. 827 in the Senate.

The measure was written by citizens and scientists in the Northern Rockies and provides wilderness designation for over 20 million acres of remaining roadless forests.  It would put 2,300 people to work at the prevailing wage restoring over a million acres of previously clearcut forests and by obliterating over 6,300 miles of old logging roads in wildlife corridors in the Northern Rockies.

Maintaining our existing forests and restoring already-logged areas provides one of the planet’s most effective carbon sinks, while also providing the best chance to keep endangered species from extinction and contribute to our planet’s much-needed recovery from the extreme and widespread ravages of extractive industries.

Protecting forests saves money

We are in the middle of the earth’s sixth great extinction period and one of the few places where scientists think we can stop it is in the Northern Rockies where we still have millions of acres of functioning, intact ecosystems.  A huge contribution to stopping the on-going march of extinction is ensuring a system of vital biological corridors connecting smaller ecosystems within the Northern Rockies to protect native plants and animals.  That’s exactly what the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act does.  Moreover, it would save taxpayers millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent subsidizing private corporations to loot our public forests.

A great example is the iconic and majestic grizzly bear, which remains on the Endangered Species list.  Grizzlies have the highest mortality rates near roads and the greatest chance of survival in protected wilderness areas.  Grizzly bears are also an umbrella species, meaning if you protect habitat for grizzly bears to ensure they survive over the long run, it’s also protecting habitat for hundreds of other species with similar habitat needs by keeping functioning ecosystems intact.

The Trump administration, along with congressional Republicans and corporate Democrats like Senator Wyden, are constantly giving away more and more of our remaining ancient publicly-owned forests in the Northern Rockies to benefit the profit margins of huge timber corporations owned by billionaires.

Given the mounting challenges of climate change and the environmental destruction by past and on-going extractive industries, now’s the time to support workers, not billionaires.  We need to stand up for our public lands and fight to preserve critical habitat for native species for future generations.  Please take a moment to contact your Congressional delegation and ask them to support the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act and oppose Wyden’s corporate welfare bill to pay Big Timber to loot our national forests.  The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act creates jobs, protects and restores the environment, and saves taxpayers’ money.  Win, win, win!

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