Cutting Down the Trees
Clearcuts. As beautiful
as tree-covered West Virginia hillsides are today, yesteryear's
massive devastation of the state's native forests left a
for today's timber industry to dispel. In fact, the modern
forestry profession arose from concerns that clearcuts
might once again make the "beautiful hills" barren.
By 1961 clearcuts had been
applied to more than half the harvests in national forests
across the country as part of "scientific forestry."
Later, in the 1970s, when the Mon was at the center of a
national debate about national forest practices, the National
Forest Management Act of 1976 was enacted into
law to ease the public's concerns.
Present-day worries are legitimate
yet need to be kept in historical perspective. The debate
has not ceased.
emptor still applies to the public which buys (accepts)
what the federal government is offering. Spurred on by the
timber industry, "salvage" logging rears its head
from time to time.
For example, in 1995 Congress
attached a rider to a budget bill providing disaster
relief. The rider authorized "emergency salvage
timber sale" of 4.5 billion board feet under the
guise that sick trees in national forests could be sold.
However, the rider sanctioned sale of healthy trees
associated with the sick ones, exempted sales from regulatory
review (e.g. Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act), and
mandated reopening or substitution in kind of sales of old-growth
trees previously exempted from sale so as to protect endangered
species. The rider, which expired eventually, stirred up
a storm among environmental advocates.
With television screens filled
by images of burning forests in 2000, during 2001 a concerted
effort by Big Timber to log these forests commenced. Without
Mike Dombeck as its head, the U.S. Forest Service reverted
to old policy positions on post-fire salvage logging.
Congress in the late
1990s loaded appropriations bills with anti-environmental
riders. Spearheading these cut-and-run efforts
were the determined, patient, and politically savvy Alaskan
triumvirate of Senators Ted Stevens and Frank Murkowski
and Representative Don Young. Their strategy, as
well as that of their cohorts, has been to obscure these
environmental sores inside large pieces of legislation. With
the ascendancy of a Democratic U.S. Senate in 2001, their
influence, while still substantial, has waned.
State trends. There are
trends within the timber industry which justify
vigilance. Loggers remain unregulated
and are supposed to adhere to voluntary best management
practices. The state's Division of Forestry, charged
with overseeing loggers, is oriented toward
production. In 1997 a position in the state's Development
Office was created to promote growth of the wood products
industry. Yet, little overall long-term forest
planning exists in state government.
Between 1987 and 1994 timber harvested
every year doubled to more than one billion board feet and
production is expected to increase. Between 1992 and 1999
timber companies targeted more than two million acres for
logging, which is about 13 percent of the land in West Virginia.
The timber industry in West
Virginia has transformed so that large factory-like facilities
devour massive quantities of trees to be shredded into chips.
This trend threatens both diversity of hardwoods and re-creation
of old growth forests, both of which would play second fiddle
to tree farms of tiny, young, low-grade timber. Chip
mills are not saw mills. They use smaller trees,
leftover tree limbs and tops and glue them together. Without
human intercession dead trees, tops and limbs will provide
nutrients to the soil.
In 1987, 3.7 trees were growing
for every one that was cut, but by 1995 there was a dramatic
decline to only 1.3 trees growing for every one cut.
This disturbing trend applies to numerous hardwoods.
The state's policy
is to encourage timber production. Providing
trained workers is the aim of the West Virginia Wood Industry
Training and Technology Assistance Consortium, a non-profit
group assisted by the West Virginia Development Office,
the Division of Forestry, the West Virginia Wood Technology
Center, the West Virginia Forestry Association, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, and West Virginia University.
An excellent series of articles
about West Virginia's timber industry appeared in the Charleston
Gazette . These articles are in the following web site:
State forests. Nine
state forests, constituting about 80,000 acres, form
an arc in the eastern and southern parts of the state. Most
are located in remote, heavily forested areas.
Management is awkwardly
divided between two separate agencies: the West
Virginia Division of Forestry (non-developed portions) and
the Division of Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation
Section (developed portions such as cabins, etc.). The director
of the Division of Natural Resouces has the authority, with
approval of the governor, to sell timber on state-owned
land except state parks and Kanawha State Forest. [W.Va.
Code sec. 20-1-7(13)].
Logging is a major focus
of 10-year state forest management plans. The philosophy
seems to be: plan for logging and roads and then
consider wildlife, ecology, and aesthetics. Logging
versus wildness and resultant tourism. That conflict led
in 2000 to including Kanawha State Forest in the state park
system. Citizen-input into these plans is crucial.
The Division of Forestry
has a financial incentive to have trees cut since it retains
seventy-five percent of the money. Incentive versus duty.
The director also has the duty to protect our forests. [W.Va.
Code sec. 20-1-7(15)]. And for land purchased by the state
for state forests the "director shall protect, preserve
and maintain lands so acquired...." [W.Va. Code sec.
20-3-2]. Is the director doing so?
Beyond the issue of philosophy,
care and expansion of state forests is limited by its funding,
principally hunting licenses. That money tends to go to
wildlife management. The shortage of funding limits
expansion necessary to protect watersheds and ecosystems
in state forests.
National forest. Due to
the sizeable national forest acreage in West Virginia,
located in a remarkably scenic, mountainous area, the federal
government's timber management policies and practices regularly
raise important issues. Common concerns involve haulage
and skid roads, size of sales of timber, subsidized timber
sales, loss of soil and siltation and pollution of streams
from timber cuts, endangered species of animals, preservation
of old growth forests, and impairment of scenic views.
Model. One successful
model for modifying questionable timber sales in the
Mon occurred in 1996 and early 1997. The site in question
was on the east side of Gauley Mountain north of Marlington,
one of the prettiest areas of the state. The Forest Service
had planned the largest-ever timber-cut in the Mon, 16 million
board feet of century-old trees. To its credit the U.S.
Forest Service listened to citizens voicing concerns about
the size of the cut and damage to steams and wildlife. Differences
remained and a lawsuit was filed to alter the proposal.
A settlement agreement was reached which reduced the size
of the cut by about one-fifth and adopted arrangements to
monitor and protect streams and wildlife.
Roads. There are more miles
of roads in national forests than are contained in
the interstate highway system, according to the U.S. Forest
Service. Roads can cause landslides, erosion, and siltation
of streams. Fortunately, the Service has taken a significant
step in precluding roads in wilderness portions of our national
forests with its roadless policy. It
is the first time public land has been protected for being
Thr Roadless Initiative began
in January 1998, was proposed as permanent in October 1999
by President Clinton, and in November 2000 the Forest Service
made its final Environmental Impact Statement. In the early
Bush II administration the rule was allowed to take effect.
However, revisions are anticipated based upon "more
local input," meaning future concessions to timber-producing
areas in midwest and western states.
The roadless policy advances
a new approach to preserving land, "save everything
that is left," which is preferable to the Twentieth
Century's national parks policy of "save one of everything,
the best you can find."
The roadless policy also
prohibits timber harvests in roadless areas except
where cutting is necessary for reducing the risk of unusually
intense fires, restoring ecosystem health, or conserving
roadless area values -- "stewardship logging." Environmental
watchdogs no doubt will monitor the exception to the rule.
Critics of the roadless policy want more logging to dampen
the risk of wildfires as seen in the West during summer
How much forest land will
be protected? A remarkable 50 million acres, expanding
to 60 million acres with 2004 inclusion of Tongass National
Forest in Alaska. They constitute about two percent
of the land in the USA. In West Virginia the new rule covers
about 200,000 acres of the Monongahela National Forest and
some tracts in the George Washington and Jefferson National
Helicopter logging. An
additional discouragement to road construction in the Mon
is helicopter logging, which is required in some areas of
the Mon. A minus to this form of logging is that it may
provide access to areas otherwise not likely to be logged.
device for protection of forests is the federal Antiquities
Act of 1906. The statute has been used by many presidents
late in a term to create national monuments. In 2000 President
Clinton boldly set aside nearly three million acres of scenic
land for protection through national monument status, more
than any other president. For example, thirty-four of the
nation's seventy-five giant sequoia groves on 328,000 acres
in California were given national mounment protection.
Last updated on Tuesday, July 24, 2001