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Logging old growth should become old hat.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Josh Laughlin and Joseph Vaile For The Register-Guard

In 30 years, can you imagine looking back and wishing we had more 6-foot-wide stumps or more logging roads?

Now more than ever, federal foresters' primary mission should be to thin young tree plantations and address fire hazards. Yet every day, the Bush administration, despite its rhetoric of "healthy forests," is taking us back to the dark ages of forest management by opening ancient forests and wild, roadless lands to more logging.

In April, while architects of the Northwest Forest Plan were reflecting on the first 10 years of the plan, the compromise framework for 24 million acres of federal forestland in the Pacific Northwest, the Bush administration was busy removing the plan's key environmental safeguards: the "survey and manage strategy" and the "aquatic conservation strategy." These two components are designed to protect salmon and old growth forests, two icons of our region.

Ironically, the Bush rollbacks come at a time when a majority of Oregonians, most members of the congressional delegation, authors of the plan and economists say it is time to end logging the remaining older forests on public land.

Noting an 80 percent percent reduction in mature and old growth forests over the past 100 years, prominent forest scientists in 2001 asked the administration to protect the remaining older forests. In 2003, two former Forest Service chiefs said it is time to "declare old growth off-limits to logging and move on."

There is an alternative to the reckless liquidation of the last 10 percent of older forest in the region. The last 50 years of intensive forest management have left us with a landscape of fiber plantations - hundreds of thousands of acres of crowded young tree plantations. The innovative science of variable density thinning can restore the diversity and complexity of these young stands planted after past clear-cutting.

This common sense approach to forestry is happening, among other places, on our Siuslaw National Forest. With input from stakeholders, planners in this forest have focused on thinning young tree plantations and restoring streambeds that have been degraded over time. The forest was recently presented with the "Breaking the Gridlock" and "Rise to the Future" national awards. This forest is working.

Given that this kind of forest work enjoys wide local support, why would the Bush administration in Washington, D.C., perpetuate old struggles by gutting environmental laws and pushing massive old growth and roadless logging projects? Is it payback for the $1.1 million that a handful of timber corporations put in Bush's pocket during the 2000 election?

An example of the Bush administration's wrong direction in forest policy occurs on the Medford District of the Bureau of Land Management. Using the doublespeak of "forest health," the BLM plans to log the heart out of the Zane Grey roadless area, a 46,500-acre block adjacent to the Rogue River. This is the largest forested roadless area the BLM administers in the nation, and it is the stomping grounds of adventurer and novelist Grey, whose historic cabin sits on the north bank of the Rogue.

As we move into the Northwest Forest Plan's second decade, we hope the administration and Congress permanently protect treasured older forests while prioritizing much needed work in tree farms. We also hope that policy will reflect the values of the American public, support forest jobs while restoring habitat, and protect what makes this region so special: wild lands, salmon habitat and ancient forests.

Josh Laughlin is the campaign coordinator for the Cascadia Wildlands Project ( in Eugene. Joseph Vaile is the campaign coordinator for the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center in Ashland. He previously worked for the BLM in Medford.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 19, 2004
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