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Forest plans & politics: crisis in the making.

In late August, John Mumma, Forest Service Regional Forester in Missoula, Montana, was asked to take a staff job in Washington, DC. The move was a result of his refusal to either meet the "timber-sale targets" set forth in forest plans or forece the amendment of those plans. As in all such situations, a lot of complex issues are involved, and there are no spotless heroes. But for the Forest Service to insist that this was a normal personnel move unaffected by political pressure is both false and disingenuous.

The intense controversy over the Allowable Sale Quantity (ASQ), as the timber targets are officially known, and what they really mean in the context of the forest plans, is a major factor in the Mumma situation. By failing to address that issue directly, the Forest Service is in an untenable situation. It's very complicated, but here's a short explanation.

ASQs were calculated in forest plans as the maximum allowable timber harvest within the constraints imposed by other resource values and the need for sustainability. In many forests, particularly the 15 in Mumma's Region 1 (Montana, Idaho, Washington, and the Dakotas), planners were under pressure to set ASQs as high as possible. In doing so, they assumed that wilderness questions would be settled, and that then-roadless areas not set aside as wilderness would soon be available for timber harvest. That hasn't happened, so as much as one-third of the planned ASQ is still effectively off-limits in some forests.

In addition, recent court decicions, state laws, and Forest Service biodiversity standards have affected other lands. Intense cutting on private lands inside national forests has left some watersheds so intensely impacted that further timber harvest on the public lands is precluded.

The result is that forest supervisors can't meet their timber plans--the ASQs are simply too high, given the constraints involved. But the political pressure to treat ASQs as hard targets is intense, and members of Congress, pressed by the forest-products industry and local communities, are highly critical of attempts by the agency to treat ASQs as unattainable levels of output. Although Montana and Idaho policitians protests otherwise, the evidence that they were after Mumma's hide is too clear to ignore.

But Mamma's not the total problem, and moving him only sets up other forest professionals for failure, unless two things happen: First, the forest plans need to be amended, and brought into line with reality. If the ASQ is going to be treated as a target for the near0term, it must be achievable. Second, a major public outcry needs to be raised to stop members of Congress from trying to micro-manage the nation's public forests. AFA has fought for 100 years to have public forests managed in the long-term public interest. It's time to sound that battle cry again.
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Author:Sampson, R. Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:editorial
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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