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Restorative Logging?

Beginning with Bush’s 2003 Healthy Forests Restoration Act, there have been a number of politically powered, scientifically justified proposals to log more federal forests. These efforts to increase logging assert that our forests are unhealthy and, therefore, in need of “restoration.“

Sen. Wyden’s Eastside Forest Restoration and Jobs Act, proposing to triple logging in three million acres of already over-logged forests, brought in a new twist: Environmental organizations are working with the timber industry to promote this latest round of logging.

Jack Ward Thomas, ex-chief the Forest Service and a forger of the Northwest Forest Plan, publicly challenged this collaborative logging proposal. In an Oregonian op-ed, he questioned special interest groups dictating national forest policy, undercutting existing forest management laws, and expediting logging by reducing appeals and public participation.

Politically and scientifically driven logging to “restore“ our forests precedes the Bush and Wyden efforts by 40 years. In the early 1970s, massive clear-cut logging, called “regeneration harvesting,“ was sold as a way to bring decadent ancient forests back to health. Liquidating these “overly mature” forests was supposed to create more wildlife habitat, increase water flows and salmon runs, foster more diversity, and help prevent fire. It’s done just the opposite.

A Forest Service silviculturalist I worked with during that period jeopardized his career by calling “regeneration harvesting“ what it really was … deforestry. Wikipedia says using buzzwords is “stating goals with opaque words of unclear meaning; their positive connotations prevent questioning of intent.” In a Register-Guard opinion, Tom Partin of the American Forest Resource Council cloaked this latest logging scam in buzzwords without ever saying the “L“ word.

Fear of wildfire is heavily used to sell these forest “restoration” schemes. Logging has not been proven, in practice, to reduce fire frequency or intensity. Historically, the largest, most destructive blazes, like the Tillamook conflagration, were caused from logging or fueled by slash. Unlogged forests, cool and shaded, are typically more fire resistant than cut over, dried-up stands choked with slash and weeds.

Large-scale logging (by any name) has devalued our forests, degraded our waters, damaged soils, and endangered a wide variety of plants and animals. How will the current round of politically and environmentally propelled “restorative” logging proposals differ, in practice, from past logging regimes?

It’s a bad time for environmentalists to promote more logging even if it were truly “restorative.” In this historically low market, federal timber is sold very cheaply. Timber purchasers already sit on huge logging contracts in order to make windfall profits when markets rise. Selling more timber in a low market further devalues our forest and encourages industry to clamor for more.

Practicing forestry for 35 years, I’ve worked with federal and private foresters, tribal elders, citizen groups, and even industry to design many successful forest restoration projects that don’t involve logging. Fact is, when site and soil impacts are considered, “restorative logging” in federal forests is a rarity … more of an oxymoron than a reality.

Roy Keene is a local real estate broker and private timberland restoration specialist.

(This article appeared in the March 3 2011 issue of the Eugene Weekly)

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