Trenton, New Jersey

May 9, 1997


Last week Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J. introduced the Save America's Forests Act, a bill that would protect 17 million acres of "core forest areas" nationwide. His bill continues an honorable environmental tradition established by the senator's predecessor, Bill Bradley.

The legislation would ban logging on 13 million acres of the nation's irreplaceable old-growth forests in the Northwest, as well as on 4 million additional acres in specially designated areas across the nation. Logging and road construction would be forbidden in roadless areas 5,000 acres of larger in the West and 1,500 acres or larger in the more congested East.

It's remarkable that the nation still has that much old-growth forest left to protect after well over a century of government subsidies for ruthless logging practices on federal lands. The American Forest and Paper Association, however, seems troubled that vast areas remain still in their virgin condition. "Without utilizing forest management techniques-such as clearcutting-that mimic natural forest processes, diverse landscapes and resulting wildlife habitats could not be naturally maintained," thundered an AFandPA press release. We can only say that anyone capable of maintaining a straight face while equating clearcutting with "natural forest processes" will always be able to make a good living as a lobbyist.

Sen. Torricelli's bill wouldn't ban logging on federal lands, but it would end the cut-and-run practices that the timber industry, with taxpayer subsidies, has long enjoyed there. The legislation would forbid clearcutting, establish special protections for stream and river corridors and create a panel of scientists to guide federal forest management practices.

Private citizens and determined environmental organizations have long made effective use of their right to sue in civil court to enforce the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts when government won't. The Torricelli legislation would give citizens the same right to go to court to enforce federal forest protection law, a prospect that timber companies dread. Commendably, it would set a high priority on protecting native plants and animals where population are healthy, and restoring biodiversity in areas that have been disrupted. At this late hour in the twentieth century it's clear that the best use of federal forest lands is the preservation of our native biological heritage.

As vast as these federal lands are, 80% of the nation's timber supply still comes from private forest acreage. Sen. Torricelli's legislation would free the national forests from plundering by parochial special interests, but it wouldn't deprive the country of lumber or paper.

It would be wonderful if every American, at least once, could walk through the cathedral grandeur of an ancient forest. If Sen. Torricelli's bill becomes law, as it should, every American for all time to come will have that opportunity.