Synthesis/Regeneration 11   (Fall 1996)

Challenging Corporate Power

Clinton Betrays Forests: Timber Beasts Go After the Last 5%

by Bob Brister, Austin Greens

In the Pacific Northwest, old-growth forests protected in ancient forest reserves are now being opened up to clearcut logging. In the Rocky Mountains, the last big roadless areas are being invaded. Only 5% of the original old-growth forests in the United States are intact today. In the Midwest, East, and South, the last remnants of healthy forests are being "salvaged" for "forest health."

On July 27, 1995, President Clinton signed into law the 1995 Interior Appropriations Rescissions Act. This includes the "timber salvage rider" which suspends existing environmental laws governing logging on public lands. Congress held no hearings or debates on this bill. "Salvage" is a general term referring to timber sales held in areas that have been damaged by natural or anthropogenic causes (such as fire, disease, or insects). Although he had vetoed a similar measure earlier, Clinton reportedly signed the budget bill (with the rider) as part of a back room deal he made with Senators Mark Hatfield and Slade Gorton to preserve his Americorps jobs program-thus wiping out 20 years of environmental legislation.

The rationale that the timber industry offered to Congress for the salvage rider was a phony "forest health crisis" that demands clear-cutting as a cure. In fact, to the extent there is a forest health crisis, it is a result of decades of abuse of public lands. Easily accessible areas have been high-graded (i.e., the largest and healthiest stands of ancient trees have been cut); logging equipment has damaged soils; roads have fragmented formerly roadless areas; forests have been turned into tree farms; continuous fire suppression has caused tinder fuels, which otherwise would have been cleared by natural low-intensity burns, to build up to dangerous levels.

Another excuse offered in support of "logging without laws" is that dead or dying trees are going to "waste" while some timber mills do not have enough logs with which to work. Actually, those "wasted" rotting trees are an important source of soil nutrients and humus in forests. Downed, decaying wood also serves to prevent soil erosion and to slow down run-off, thus keeping water clean and sediment-free (which is of vital importance to fish such as salmon and to the wildlife and people who depend on them). Dead and dying trees are vital habitat for many species.

To the extent there is a forest health crisis, it is a result of decades of abuse of public lands.

One of the most galling and hypocritical arguments used by the timber industry for the salvage logging rider is that unemployed loggers need jobs. Economic data, however, show that timber industry job loss has a lot more to do with automation and raw log exports than environmental protection.

The real force behind "logging without laws" is not a phony forest health crisis or unemployed loggers; it is large timber corporations and wealthy individuals who benefit from federally subsidized logging. While government programs that serve relatively defenseless groups such as children, the poor, minorities, the sick, the elderly, and wildlife are drastically cut, corporate welfare programs such as the timber salvage rider continue unabated. Congress estimates that it subsidizes the timber industry by $750 million annually because revenues generated by timber sales on public land do not meet the government's direct cost (such as sale preparation and road-building).

The U.S. Forest Service is the largest road-building agency in the world. National Forests contain eight times as many miles of roads as our national highway system. Roadless areas serve as the last habitat for endangered species such as grizzly bear, wolverine, bull trout, and woodland caribou. Logging in these areas will further endanger these and other species, costing taxpayers more money to save them.

Timber industry job loss has a lot more to do with automation and raw log exports than environmental protection.

People who fish for salmon and wildlife dependent on salmon will be among those hardest hit by the timber salvage rider. Salmon migrate from streams and rivers to the ocean and then back again to spawn. They need healthy intact forests to survive. Clear-cutting trees results in soil erosion which chokes rivers and kills salmon The erosion of topsoil also makes it more difficult for new trees to grow. Forest shade regulates stream water temperature and flow level; shaded streams retain water, avoiding sharp fluctuations in water level. Clear-cutting has been blamed for most of the damage from massive floods in the Pacific Northwest earlier this year. Ten times as much water runs off a clearcut slope as a forested slope.

The new law applies "salvage" to areas that are allegedly threatened by disease, fire, or insects. Of course, such a "threat" can be invoked for any forest That is exactly what the US Forest Service does, giving timber corporations the opportunity to cut down healthy green trees and be "exempt to existing laws such as The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974; The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976; The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969; The Endangered Species Act of 1973; The National Forest Management Act of 1976; The Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960; any compact, executive agreement, convention, treaty, and international agreement, and implementing legislation related thereto; all other applicable Federal environmental and natural resource laws."

This "logging without laws" act is an attack on our right to redress in a court of law. Radical Greens will recognize that the legal system has never been really effective in protecting the ecosystem (otherwise we wouldn't be reduced to fighting to protect the last 5% of ancient forest in the U.S.), but the timber salvage rider removes even the slim margin of protection that the legal system affords. That margin of protection is important as we engage in "damage control" against capitalism's depredations while we strive to construct a Green alternative.

Action needed to stop "logging without laws"

Direct actions are taking place in National Forests threatened by "logging without laws," especially in the West. Contact the Western Ancient Forest Campaign or the Ancient Forest Hotline to find out where the action is. (See contact information below.)

Congress estimates that it subsidizes the timber industry by $750 million annually.

Write to President Clinton, your senators, and your member of Congress, and demand that they endorse Rep. Elizabeth Furse's Rider Repeal bill, H.R. 2745. Demand that Clinton cancel the contracts of all environmentally destructive sales under the Rider. He should also order the Forest Service to stop offering green, healthy timber sales as salvage under the Rider. (Of course, all timber sales on public lands should end so that these lands can be restored as core areas for wilderness restoration. Even the Sierra Club has taken a "no cut" position on National Forests.)

Chief of Staff Leon Panetta's comment line: 202/456-6797 White House comment line: 202/456-1111 (9-5 EST). White House faxes: President, 202/456-2883; Vice President, 202/456-7044; Re-election office, 202/496-4849. E-mail: and

Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper urging the President to follow through on his position in favor of repeal of the logging rider by supporting Elizabeth Furse's bill (H.R. 2745) in the House and the Bradley/Boxer bill in the Senate.

Call your senators and member of Congress, asking them to support complete repeal of the Salvage Logging Rider. You can also call their local offices.

For more information

The Western Ancient Forest Campaign puts out weekly bulletins for free via e-mail. Send your name, address, organization, phone, fax, and e-mail address to and ask to be added to the list. You can have the bulletins faxed or mailed for $25. Send to WAFC, 1101 14th St., N.W., #1400, Washington, DC 20005.

The Winter 1995/96 newsletter of Save America's Forests has 87 pages on the rider and the campaign to repeal it, including what the rider says and specifics of sales around the country. Write to SAF, 4 Library Ct., S.E., Washington, DC 20003.

Witness Against Lawless Logging (WALL) has a very active electronic board announcing protests and discussing strategy for overcoming the rider. Anyone can post to it as well as receive messages. Send an e-mail to Write in the message body: "subscribe wall-list".

The Ancient Forest Hotline has information on protests, rallies, and other events aimed at stopping the rider. Call 1-800- 283-5926.

Sport and commercial fishermen, a horse logger, a city water official, an economist, and Ralph Nader all speak to the economic benefits of protecting forests in a new video released by Greenfire Productions. The 11-minute video will be distributed nationwide in an effort to raise public awareness of the economic value of preserving public forests. "We cannot destroy the basis of our economy, which is the natural environment," says Glen Spain, one of the fishermen in the video. Greenfire Productions distributed thousands of copies of "Logs, Lies and Videotape," a video about the clearcut rider, earlier this year. Contact Greenfire at 503/274-6234 (phone and fax) or by e-mail:

Web sites:
Cascadia Planet:
Taxpayer Assets Project:
Witness Against Lawless Logging:

Much of the information for this article came from the Western Ancient Forest Campaign, Witness Against Lawless Logging, the Taxpayer Assets Project, and Save America's Forests.

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