by Michael Garrity, Guest Column
From one fifth-generation Montanan to another, I’m calling U.S. Rep. Steve Daines’ recent column on forest issues misinformed parroting of Bush-era “Healthy Forests Initiative” propaganda, which was nothing but a smokescreen for more corporate logging. Sadly, Daines now follows Bush’s path to less environmental analysis, less public review and more deforestation of our dwindling old growth forests.
Ironically, Daines’ column was published at the same time as numerous articles about how wonderful Yellowstone National Park is doing after the 1988 fires that burned 1.4 million acres. Despite predictions at the time from forestry experts who claimed Yellowstone’s soil was “sterilized,” the evidence is clear that didn’t happen. Contrary to predictions of other “experts,” the park’s rivers didn’t fill with sediment and the fish didn’t die after the fires, either. Monica Turner, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who has studied the forests in Yellowstone since 1988 found “the bottom line of our studies to date is there was tremendous resilience of the ecosystem with no management and no intervention at all,” she recently explained to a National Park Service conference on climate change.
Instead of spreading fear and misinformation, it would be more helpful for Daines to focus his attention on climate change, which is making fires burn hotter and bigger. As common sense and the U.S. Forest Service’s own research shows, forests are carbon sinks and they absorb the most carbon when logging is reduced, even when wildfires and insects are taken into account.
Juxtaposed with both the hard evidence from Yellowstone and scientific research on climate change, Daines peddles fear about “catastrophic wildfire,” Americans exercising their First Amendment rights and timber mills closing. Without a mention of the Great Recession, the collapse of the housing market and the Forest Service’s inability to follow the law, Daines instead seeks to blame those who are trying to preserve our forest, fisheries and wildlife heritage for future generations.
Again, the evidence belies Daines’ claims. Many of the fires burning in Montana this year, like those in Gold Creek and near Lolo, are in areas “managed” to death by the timber companies and the Forest Service. There’s nothing for miles and miles up Gold Creek but knapweed and stumps in massive old clearcuts, yet that’s where the fire was burning. The area west of Lolo has also been severely logged, by Plum Creek Timber Co. and the Forest Service, making it obvious that logging as the solution to wildfire is, at best, a myth. Or how about the Copper Creek fire by Three Forks that burned through grass and juniper? There’s no forest there to “manage.”
Instead, Daines offers much the same solution as the Forest Service — no matter what the hypothetical “problem” the answer is always more taxpayer-subsidized corporate logging of our national forests. His Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act congressionally mandates more logging while restricting or eliminating our First Amendment right to challenge government decisions.
The bill also creates huge exemptions from environmental laws and even excludes any timber sale of 10,000 acres or less from environmental analysis and public review. Incredibly, it requires the Forest Service to submit a finding that the logging won’t harm endangered species. Ultimately, that would only result in even more species winding up on the endangered list as they are pushed toward extinction.
As a fifth-generation Montanan, my grandparents and parents taught me to be self-reliant and responsible with money. All the evidence and science say Yellowstone is doing just fine not being “managed” by bureaucrats and loggers — and nature is restoring Yellowstone for free.
Congress already gives the Forest Service about $4 billion to log 4 million acres of fish and wildlife habitat annually. Fifth-generation Montanan or not, Daines is flat-out wrong about throwing more billions of taxpayer dollars into subsidized logging. He is even more wrong to tell Montana citizens they can’t have a say in the management of our public lands.
Mike Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.