Forestry Source

Opinion Editorial
Representative Anna Eshoo

June 1997


If a tree is clearcut in the forest and no one hears it, it still makes noise.

Just ask the residents of Humboldt County, California, who heard rumbling mudslides late last year that wiped out seven homes, closed more than 40 roads, displaced several families, and caused million of dollars worth of damage. The clearcutting of trees on the hillsides near the town of Stafford left the surrounding land unstable and led to the destruction.

The mudslides that took place on private property in Humboldt County could just as easily have taken place on public lands. Beyond destabilizing the soil, clearcutting contributes to deforestation, pushes America's native plant and animal species toward extinction, and decreases the diversity of our biological resources in this country. Of the 1 billion acres of original forest in the United States, less than 6 percent remain-and only 1 percent of the original forests in the lower 48 states.

It is imperative for us to act to preserve our dwindling forestlands, starting with the areas that are held in public trust.

To this end, I've introduced the Act to Save America's Forests. This legislation would put an end to clearcutting on federal forestlands, promote sustainable forestry practices, and provide strong protection to the last remaining core areas of forest biodiversity in the United States.

Specifically, the Act to Save America's Forests would prevent the USDA Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Armed Services from allowing clearcutting on forestlands under their jurisdiction. In its place, these agencies would be required to make the preservation of native forest biological diversity their top priority in managing these areas, and the Forest Service in particular would be required to actually restore native plants and animals.

Further, the legislation would prohibit any extractive logging and road building on federal land in the ancient Northwest forests and roadless areas. The Act to Save America's Forests would help protect land along the banks of lakes and waterways, key watershed, and isolated patches of old-growth forests.

However, there are also over 100 significant swaths of federal forestland that would not qualify for protection under the ancient Northwest forest or roadless area provisions of the legislation. These areas-totaling nearly four million acres-are specifically named in the Act to Save America's Forests as off-limits to extractive logging and road building. Special areas from the Giant Sequoia Preserve in California to the Robert Frost Mountain Area in Vermont would be preserved under this bill.

The Act to Save America's Forests s more than a simple step toward better stewardship over our public lands-it represents a 180-degree turn from the federal government's current approach to managing federal forests. Instead of encouraging federal agencies to continue looking for ways to sell off this nation's natural heritage at below-market prices, it requires them to pursue ways to preserve and enhance forested areas for future generation.

It also represents a direct response to the American people's expressed desire for stronger-not weaker-environmental protection. Last year people throughout the nation refuted the 104th Congress's attempts to gut important conservation measures. Although most of the antienvironmental legislation introduced in the 104th Congress was defeated, some became law, including an ill-conceived plan to open up old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest to clearcutting. The Act to Save America's Forests is an attempt to reverse the ecological destruction caused in the previous Congress and take a proactive approach to helping the environment.

Some observers may say that there is little chance of getting such a sweeping piece of legislation through the current majority in Congress. But I'm encouraged by the strong show of support for the initiative. The bill has 60 originals cosponsors so far, and it's been gaining support ever since it was introduced a few weeks ago.

If the Act to Save America's Forests continues to gain momentum, it will undoubtedly become one of the greatest legacies of the 105th Congress.