National Forests, Endangered Species Under Attack as House Republicans Pass Reckless Logging Bill

GR: The bill is just as bad as we feared it would be. Click here for the earlier discussions. Using catastrophic fires as cover, House Republicans passed a bill that removes protections from U. S. national forests. The bill will lift the few restrictions now in place and permit unrestricted logging in critical habitats and sites subject to soil erosion. The purpose is to give logging companies a profit boost.

A logger climbs down a mountainside while working on Admiralty Island in the Tongass National Forest. Michael Penn

“In a partisan vote, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday that would devastate national forests by gutting endangered species protections and rubber-stamping huge logging projects. The final vote was 232 to 188.

“HR 2936, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), also limits public comment and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. Under the guise of reducing forest fires, the bill would increase unfettered logging across national forests and public lands, increase fire risk and harm forest health, while doing nothing to protect communities.

“This bill is a dangerous bait-and-switch that rewards the timber industry. It puts the health of our forests and wildlife in grave danger and ignores real solutions,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It would green-light the worst forest management practices from decades ago, when reckless logging devastated wildlife, degraded rivers and ruined recreation opportunities for countless Americans.”

“Westerman’s bill is a timber-industry wish list. Among other harmful provisions, it would allow rushed logging projects up to 30,000 acres—46 square miles—without public notice or scientific assessment of potential harm to the environment as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The bill would render forest plans meaningless, roll back measures designed to protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, waive protections for waterways and water quality across the national forest system, promote harmful logging in otherwise protected roadless areas and force the Forest Service to ignore potential harm to thousands of imperiled species.

“It would also give private landowners with easements on public land full ownership of that land and allow herbicides to be sprayed without reviewing the harm to water, fish and wildlife.

“The knee-jerk response from Republicans is always to gut our environmental laws, no matter what the issue is,” said Spivak. “They’re willing to sacrifice our wildlife, healthy streams and rivers, and vibrant public lands for private profit.”

In the first four months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 80 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks go against the wishes of most Americans, since the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.” –Center for Biological Diversity (National Forests, Endangered Species Under Attack as House Republicans Pass Reckless Logging Bill).

Human Mistakes: Deforestation

Forests

Forests are long-lived communities of trees, shrubs, herbs, and wildlife. The communities form over centuries as birds and winds deliver seeds and spores to sites with sufficient moisture for big plants to grow. Across regions occupied by forests, the combined influence of annual precipitation and temperature usually varies from dry with small scattered trees to wet with dense forest with interlocked canopies.

Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee (Country Living)

As forests develop, soils form and a diverse assemblage of arthropods, amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles gathers to fill habitats from the ground up to the canopy. The animals interact with the plants, pollinating flowers, scattering seeds, and forming many novel alliances.

Forests and the litter that accumulates on the ground transform environments. They moderate temperature and they absorb and hold moisture from precipitation. They protect the land from extreme heat and flooding. Forests are much finer places to live than the bare rock and dirt upon which they form.

Landslide in Nepal (Navesh Chitrakar Reuters/Landov)

Forests exist in a dynamic equilibrium with the forces of nature. Across a forest, natural events, fires, windstorms, floods, droughts, and late freezes, are often annual occurrences. These create a mosaic of forest of varying age. In tropical regions with stable climate, forests are older and more uniform in age than they are in temperate regions with variable climate.

Harvesting the Earth: Deforestation

Over the past few millennia, humans have accelerated forest dynamics. We have cut and burned to destroy patches of forest at a higher rate than natural forces ever did. We are doing these things so often, the forests do not have time to recover. And in many instances, we create and maintain crops and plantations that insure the forests will never recover.

Loggers, ranchers, and farmers cut forests for lumber, and cut or burn forests for livestock pastures, plantations, and farms. In the U. S., the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and state forestry departments help timber companies maximize their profits by permitting clear cutting, and by building roads and erosion barriers. With the loss of trees and disturbance of the soil, flooding and erosion often increase. Habitat and wildlife are always lost.

Clearcut forest in Oregon.

According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than half of all animals on Earth have disappeared during the past 50 years (WWF 2016). Deforestation and other human activities are responsible.

Government agencies build roads to ease removal of the forests, and they pay ranchers to build fences and stock watering ponds. Sometimes they attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of tree removal by cutting terraces into the soil to slow runoff and by planting replacement trees. In few or no instances do the agencies give the planted trees enough time to regenerate the original forest before they are cut again.

Global Deforestation

A peatland forest clearing for a palm oil plantation in the Leuser ecosystem, South Aceh, Indonesia. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Deforestation is ongoing around the world as cutting and burning convert forests to pastures, farms, and plantations. For example, Arthur Neslen of the Guardian reports, “Europe’s contribution to global deforestation may rise by more than a quarter by 2030, despite a pledge to halt such practices by the end of this decade, according to a leaked draft EU analysis.

“An estimated 13m hectares (Mha) of the world’s forestland is lost each year, a figure projected to spiral in the next 30 years with the AmazonGreater Mekongand Borneo bearing the brunt of tree clearances.

“But despite signing several international pledges to end deforestation by this decade’s end, more than 5Mha of extra forest land will be needed annually by 2030 to meet EU demand for agricultural products, a draft EU feasibility study predicts.” –Arthur Neslen (Source: Europe’s contribution to deforestation set to rise despite pledge to halt it | Environment | The Guardian)

Justifying Deforestation

People sometimes justify removing the forest as the unavoidable costs of human progress toward a better life of increased comfort and security. In most instances today, however, for-profit companies remove forests with little concern for people’s lives or the consequences for soils and wildlife.

The counter argument that the forest, every tree, and all the animals of the forest have value independent of humans is rarely heard. Here’s how Judi Bari put it:

“Deep ecology, or biocentrism, is the belief that nature does not exist to serve humans. Rather, humans are part of nature, one species among many. All species have a right to exist for their own sake, regardless of their usefulness to humans. And biodiversity is a value in itself, essential for the flourishing of both human and nonhuman life.

“These principles, I believe, are not just another political theory. Biocentrism is a law of nature, that exists independently of whether humans recognize it or not. It doesn’t matter whether we view the world in a human centered way. Nature still operates in a biocentric way. And the failure of modern society to acknowledge this – as we attempt to subordinate all of nature to human use – has led us to the brink of collapse of the earth’s life support systems.” –Judi Bari (Revolutionary Ecology)

Humans have cut and burned forests for thousands of years. The delightfully moderate environments created by forests, the opposite of urban heat islands or the monotony of farms, are disappearing. In our own special way, we are fouling our nest, but unlike the birds, we are not cleaning up after ourselves.


You can expand on this rambling introduction to deforestation by reading more posts on this blog or by reading many of the fine books available on Amazon.

Previous Posts (84) in this blog describe events and consequences for sites around the world.

 

Study: Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Severely Than Logged Areas

GR: Theodore Roosevelt formed the U. S. Forest Service to protect the forests from abusive logging and grazing practices.  Clearcutting was a major cause of problems caused by erosion and sedimentation of streams and lakes. The first head of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, fought to regulate the abuse, but he failed.  The timber and cattle industries succeeded in limiting reforms that would slow their profits.  The Forest Service routinely uses income-tax revenues to fund operations that benefit timber and cattle companies. So, for more than a century now, U. S. forests have steadily declined in both productivity and biodiversity.  The mismanagement by the nation’s foresters is typical of the other branches of public land and resource management including the largest land manager, the U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management.

Map:  Location of fires >1,000 acres in pine and mixed-conifer forests with relatively frequent fire regimes in ecoregions of western United States from 1984 to 2014.

“TUCSON, Ariz.— A new study published in the scientific journal Ecosphere finds that public forests that are protected from logging burn less severely than logged forests. The study is the most comprehensive investigation of its kind, spanning more than 23 million acres and examining three decades’ of forest fire data in the West. Among the major findings were that areas undisturbed by logging experienced significantly less intensive fire compared with areas that have been logged.

“The findings come as many federal land managers and members of Congress claim that more logging will reduce wildfires. Several bills have been introduced in Congress to increase logging on vast areas of public land; these have typically been presented under the guise of addressing forest fire concerns, but eliminate most analysis of environmental impacts and reduce environmental protections.

“We were surprised to see how significant the differences were between protected areas managed for biodiversity and unprotected areas, which our data show burned more severely,” said lead author Curtis Bradley, with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“For this study scientists set out to determine whether reduced forest protections and increased logging are associated with lower fire severity. They analyzed fires that burned in pine and mixed-conifer forests starting about 30 years ago, at the earliest point for which comprehensive data were available, to compare where and how fires burned using satellite imagery and maps from the U.S. Geological Survey’s “protected areas database.” The results demonstrated that fires burned relatively cooler in areas managed for biodiversity (Gap 1 in figure below), including national parks and wilderness areas where fires are generally allowed to proceed naturally versus areas managed for multiple use (Gap 3) and areas with little to no mandate for protection (Gap 4) such as private forest lands managed for timber production.

“The study focused on forests with relatively frequent fire regimes, ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forest types; used multiple statistical models; and accounted for effects of climate, topography and regional differences to ensure the findings were robust.

“The belief that restrictions on logging have increased fire severity did not bear out in the study,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, an ecologist with the John Muir Project. “In fact, the findings suggest the opposite. The most intense fires are occurring on private forest lands, while lands with little to no logging experience fires with relatively lower intensity.”

Chart:  Forests with the highest level of protection (GAP 1 and 2) had the lowest levels of high severity fire — results are shown for 3 statistical models examined.

“Our findings demonstrate that increased logging may actually increase fire severity,” said Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, chief scientist of Geos Institute. “Instead, decision-makers concerned about fire should target proven fire-risk reduction measures nearest homes and keep firefighters out of harm’s way by focusing fire suppression actions near towns, not in the back country.”

“The authors noted that even in protected forests they found an appropriate mix of low, moderate and high-intensity fire, which is ecologically beneficial since many wildlife species depend on post-fire habitat, especially “snag forest habitat” created by patches of high-intensity fire. Many studies indicate that significant damage to wildlife habitat can result from logging of both unburned mature forests and snag-forest habitat.”

–Curtis Bradley, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 345-5710, cbradley@biologicaldiversity.org

–Dr. Chad Hanson, John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, (530) 273-9290, cthanson1@gmail.com

–Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, (541) 482-4459 x 302 or (541) 621-7223 cell, dominick@geosinstitute.org

Source: Study: Protected Forests on Public Land Burn Less Severely Than Logged Areas

Northern California National Forests on Fire

Last month’s storms in the North Coast resulted in hundreds of lightning strikes igniting forest fires across the region and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Now a combined total of approximately 102,755 acres are burning on the Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers National Forests. Thousands of fire fighters are on the ground, some in an effort to protect life and property and others are in the wilderness and backcountry. Fire suppression and the military style of firefighting can be more environmentally destructive than wildfire itself. Crews typically construct ridge top fire lines with bulldozers, dump fire retardant, ignite high severity back burns, fell trees and open up decommissioned roads to access and suppress the fires. These damaging efforts are often ineffective, for example yesterday a burning tree fell across a containment line on the Route complex, causing the fire to escape.  Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.wildcalifornia.org

GR:  The human damage fighting fires and logging burned areas may be more destructive than the fires.