The Need for the Act to Save America’s Forests
in Response to the
Bush Assault on the National Forests

Matthew Finer, Ph.D.
Staff Ecologist
Save America's Forests

December 2005

For the past five years, the Bush administration has been engaged in a multi-pronged attack on our National Forest System. Here we present eight of the most significant prongs of the Bush attack and how the Act to Save America’s Forests represents not only a strong defense, but an offense as well that would lead to the greatest protections our National Forests have ever seen. The eight prongs are: 1) Roadless Areas, 2) Pacific Northwest Ancient Forests, 3) Biscuit—Fire and Salvage 4) Sierra Nevada, 5) Sequoias 5) Biodiversity, 6) Healthy Forests Initiative, and 7) Forest Planning.

There are four main goals of this analysis. The first is to clearly convey the vast amount of protection that the Act will achieve through its various provisions which end all logging in tens of millions of acres of our national forests, and which greatly limit logging in the remaining areas, far more protection than has ever been achieved before.

Second is to show how the Act is a precise antidote to the numerous legislative and administrative attacks by the Bush Administration against the existing forest protection laws.

Third, this analysis will hopefully dispel some misunderstanding about the Act to Save America's Forests, and provide an update on the newest version of the Act, which has continuously been updated since it was first introduced, and was last updated in 2003.

And fourth, and most importantly, this analysis will hopefully rally many readers to organize for the Act to Save America's Forests now, so that when the control of the Congress changes, the Act is ready to move through Congress into law and our movement is organized to do so. The Act to Save America’s Forests represents a powerful and politically viable solution to the chronic threats facing our National Forests—threats which have been taken to the extreme during the Bush administration.

1) Roadless
The Bush administration, in May of 2005, repealed the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule put in place by the Clinton administration, thereby leaving almost 60 million acres of wild forests vulnerable to logging and road-building. This roadless rule has been replaced with a process where state governors “may petition the Secretary of Agriculture to promulgate regulations establishing management requirements” for roadless areas within that state. In other words, state governors may petition the Forest Service with their recommendations for which roadless areas in their states should be considered for protection. The states will be forced to pay for the analysis necessary to fulfill the requirements of the petition process. This petition process, however, leaves the final decision for roadless area management up to the Agriculture Department, and thus the Bush Administration.

In August 2005, the states of Oregon, California, and New Mexico sued the Bush administration over the new rule. In addition, Washington and Oregon both submitted petitions requesting the option of adopting the 2001 policy, but the Bush administration rejected Oregon’s petition in November.

One of the most immediate concern are states such as Idaho and Alaska, which contain extensive Inventoried Roadless Areas (9.3 and 14.7 million acres, respectively), but also have governors very eager to open up their states roadless areas for logging and road-building. (Note: the repeal of the roadless rule followed actions in December 2003 when the Bush administration exempted Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the roadless rule.)

 The Act to Save America’s Forests prohibits road-building and extractive logging in all roadless areas greater than 1,000 acres, including Tongass National Forest. The Act goes significantly further than the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which had numerous logging exceptions which many regarded as unacceptable loopholes, and which only protected roadless areas greater than 5,000 acres.

2) Pacific Northwest Ancient Forests
The Bush administration has dismantled two key provisions aimed at protecting Ancient Forests in the Pacific Northwest. The Northwest Forest Plan, adopted in 1994 under the Clinton administration, established the Survey and Manage Program and Aquatic Conservation Strategy as critical protections for unprotected Ancient Forests in northern California, Washington, and Oregon. The Survey and Manage Program required the Forest Service to survey for Ancient-Forest dependent rare species and refrain from logging where necessary to ensure their survival. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy is a scientifically based framework for minimizing the damage on salmon watersheds from logging projects. In March 2004, the Administration eliminated the Survey and Manage Program and gutted the Aquatic Conservation Strategy. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy and the Survey and Manage Program were the principal two mechanisms used by the conservation community to stop destructive ancient forest logging projects.

In August 2005, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration violated the law when eliminating the Survey and Manage Program by not fully analyzing the environmental effects of the action. In November 2005, environmentalists were in federal court challenging the administrations changes to the Aquatic Conservation Strategy.

The Act to Save America’s Forests prohibits road-building and extractive logging in all Ancient Forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Act defines Ancient Forests as federal land identified as late-successional reserves, riparian reserves, and key watersheds under Alternative 1 in the FSEIS on Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Related Species Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl. Under this alternative, essentially all old-growth and riparian forests are protected.

a) Late-successional reserves. Alternative 1 designates 11.41 million acres as late-successional reserves, including 6.1 million acres of late-successional forest. This acreage is significantly higher than what is protected under the Northwest Forest Plan, which adopted the weaker Option 9.

b) Riparian reserves. Alternative 1 designates 1.88 million acres as riparian reserves along perennial and intermittent streams and wetlands, including 7,300 acres of late-successional forest. Riparian reserves protect forest for at least 300 ft on each side of fish-bearing streams and 150 ft for non fish-bearing streams and intermittent streams.

c) In addition to areas described above, the Act also prohibits logging on federal land identified as “medium and large conifer multi-story, canopied forests” in the above mentioned FSEIS. These forests are dominated by conifers greater than 32 in DBH, and have two or more canopy layers. The study estimates that there 4,248,300 acres of medium and large conifer multi-story, canopied forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California not currently protected in Wilderness or Parks.

Thus, overall, the Act would protect an enormous amount of late-successional forests in the Pacific Northwest, including virtually all old growth stands.

3) Biscuit
The Bush Forest Service is now carrying outa massive logging project in the Siskiyous of Oregon in response to the lightning sparked 2002 Biscuit fire. The so-called Biscuit Fire Recovery Project calls for the logging of 370 million board feet over 19,000 acres. Most alarmingly, this project calls for extensive logging in Ancient Forests and roadless areas. In March 2005, logging began in an old-growth reserve established in the Northwest Forest Plan, and more than 6,000 acres of old-growth reserves are targeted for logging overall. The Biscuit project also threatens over 8,000 acres of roadless areas in seven different Inventoried Roadless Areas. The first roadless area on the list—Mike’s Gulch—would be the first roadless area protected under Clinton’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule to be logged by the Bush administration. The Biscuit has become a test case for how far the Bush administration can go in terms of logging roadless and Ancient Forests, so the precedent will be set for future destructive logging projects under the guise of “fire recovery.”

The Act to Save America’s Forests would prohibit all future so-called fire recovery projects targeting roadless areas and old-growth reserves. In the case of the Biscuit Project, The Act would have prohibited all the roadless area and Ancient Forest logging in the Biscuit sale, which accounts for 40% and 34% of the project respectively. The Act would also great greatly restrict the amount of logging outside the roadless areas and old-growth reserves (see below).

4) Sierra Nevada
The Bush administration, in January 2004, announced a new plan that would triple logging in the Sierra Nevada. The new plan amends Clinton’s science-based 2001 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan which limited annual logging to 110 million board feet of timber—the Bush plan allows 330 million. The Clinton plan also created 4 million acres of old-growth reserves where only trees less than 20 inches in diameter could be cut. However, the new Bush administration plan allows logging of trees up to 30 inches in diameter in the reserves. In November 2004, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth rejected appeals by environmental groups, thus approving the new plan. Bosworth’s confirmation of the Bush plan prompted a series of lawsuits from both sides—The California Forestry Association sued the Forest Service contending there were too many logging restrictions, and the state of California and a coalition of environmental groups each filed lawsuits claiming there is no scientific justification for boosting logging levels. In December 2004, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey decided to review the new plan; this review is likely in response to a timber industry lawsuit and opens the door for the administration to boost logging levels even more — a common tactic of the Bush administration has been to reach settlements which favor the timber industry in response to industry lawsuits.

The Act to Save America’s Forests protects an enormous amount of Sierra Nevada forests from road-building and logging, including all roadless areas (see above) and virtually all late-successional forests.

First, the Act prohibits road-building and logging on all lands identified as “Areas of Late-Successional Emphasis” and “Late-Succession/Old-Growth Forests Rank 3, 4, or 5” in the 1997 Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project’s “Final Report to Congress: Status of the Sierra Nevada.” According to the report, this includes 42% of the national forests in the Sierra Nevada.

Secondly, the Act prohibits road-building and logging on all lands identified as “Potential Aquatic Diversity Management Areas” in the above-mentioned report. Aquatic Diversity Management Area (ADMA) watersheds are greater than 50 km 2, have a natural hydrologic regime, are dominated by native species, contain a wide representation of aquatic habitat types, and are in “good condition.” The report lists 48 ADMA watersheds, covering huge swaths of the Sierra Nevada.

5) Sequoias
In April 2000, President Clinton designated nearly 328,000 acres of the Sequoia National Forest as the Giant Sequoia National Monument in order to safeguard unprotected giant sequoia groves, which includes approximately 50% of all existing sequoia groves. The designation was intended to prohibit timber production, but it left the Monument under control of the Forest Service. In January 2005, the Bush administration issued a management plan for the Giant Sequoia National Monument that allowed extensive commercial logging. The plan permitted the removal of 7.5 million board feet per year, including sequoias as big as 30 inches in diameter. California sued in March 2005 to halt the plan, and in July a federal judge ruled that the plan violated federal law (NEPA) because it did not undergo an environmental review. In the fall of 2005, a federal judge stopped two separate logging projects being advanced by the Bush administration within the Monument. In the first suit, the judge questioned the science used by the Forest Service to justify cutting within the Monument, and in the second suit the judge stated that the Forest Service ignored research on the negative impacts of logging.

The Act to Save America’s Forests would carry out the intention of the designation of the Giant Sequoia National Monument to protect the sequoia groves by transferring control of the Monument from the Forest Service to the Park Service. Deliberations of the Chief of the Forest Service with respect to management of the Monument would be set aside, and the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Director of the National Park Service, would instead be in charge. The Park Service is entrusted with the care of most of the other national monuments. The Act to Save America's Forests directs the Park Service to manage the Monument in accordance with the Presidential Proclamation creating the Monument, which states “No portion of the Monument shall be suited for timber production…”

6) Biodiversity

The Bush administration is undermining the ability of our National Forest System to support and maintain native biodiversity.

First, the Bush administration has eliminated the requirement that the Forest Service maintain “viable populations” of native species on national forests. Under the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA), Congress called on the Forest Service to give some protection to native biodiversity. In 1982, NFMA regulations were put in place, stating “fish and wildlife habitat shall be managed to maintain viable populations” of native vertebrate species. This important requirement was the primary legal basis for the Northwest Forest Plan and the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan.

In 2000, The Clinton Administration revised the NFMA regulations, but like the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Bush administration never enforced them and made their own revisions. On December 23, 2004, the Bush administration issued new NFMA regulations that eliminate the requirement to maintain viable populations of wildlife. Thus, the Forest Service’s most important wildlife protection and the conservation community’s legal foundation for the protection of Ancient Forests and wildlife is now gone. The NFMA planning directives issued in March 2005 do appear to provide protections for federally listed species and very rare “species of concern.”

Second, as discussed above, the dismantling of the Survey and Manage Program and Aquatic Conservation Strategy puts at risk threatened Ancient Forest dependent species. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that 106 species will likely warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act due to the loss of Survey and Manage. And the reworked Aquatic Conservation Strategy further harms threatened salmon runs.

Third, the Bush administration’s Sierra Nevada Forest Plan scales back protection for threatened Ancient Forest dependent species such as the California Northern spotted owl, Pacific fisher, and American marten.

The Act to Save America’s Forests requires protective measures for maintaining native biodiversity in each stand and each watershed. This includes maintaining “the viability of populations throughout their natural geographic distributions,” thus directly countering the new NFMA regulations removing the requirement to maintain viable populations. The Act goes further than the old NFMA regulations and the Clinton NFMA regulations, by protecting all native biodiversity. The Act protects diversity within a species (genetic and age diversity), within a biological community, within a discrete area, and even along a vertical plane in the forest.

7) Healthy Forests Initiative

The Bush administration’s “ Healthy Forest” policies will greatly boost logging levels in our national forests. In the summer of 2003, as part of the Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI), the Bush administration created seven new groups of logging projects that qualify as categorical exclusions (CE). Categorical exclusions require minimal environmental study, minimal public comment, and are not subject to appeal and thus are difficult to stop. The new types of CEs allow logging of 1,000 acres in the name of hazardous fuel reduction, 70 acres of logging incidental live tree removals, and 250 acres of dead or dying trees, all with virtually no study or public comment.

Moreover, in December 2003, President Bush signed into law the first major forest legislation in a quarter century—The Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). The HFRA reduces the level of environmental analysis and public participation, significantly alters the appeals process, and undermines meaningful judicial review. The HFRA also creates a new type of CE which will open areas of up to 1,000 acres to logging in order to combat “insects and disease.” And the HFRA threatens old-growth trees in the backcountry as well by allowing extensive logging outside the wildland-urban interface. For example, the first HFRA project in the Northern Region—The Middle East Fork Hazardous Fuel Reduction Project in Montana’s Bitteroot National Forest—involves logging of 4,000 acres of old-growth forest.

According to the Forest Service’s December 2004 Healthy Forests Report, 670,000 acres were treated under the HFI and HFRA in 2004. This area will rise to 790,000 acres in 2005. The number of HFRA projects will rise from 60 in 2004 to 107 in 2005, and the number of HFI projects will rise from 564 in 2004 to 642 in 2005.

The Act to Save America’s Forests protects tens of millions of core acres in our national forest from logging, and carefully guides logging patterns and strictly limits logging levels in buffer areas where logging is permitted. As described above, The Act prohibits logging and roadbuilding in roadless areas, Ancient Forests, and riparian areas. The Act also prohibits logging and roadbuilding in millions of acres of “Special Areas” identified by scientists and local experts across the country. Creating Special Areas is the primary tool used by the Act to protect the highest quality forests in the eastern U.S. Thus, the Act fully protects the core areas in our national forests from any forms of destructive logging and roadbuilding.

In the buffer areas of our national forests which have been logged in the past, only ecologically sustainable logging practices will be permitted. The Act:

  • Prohibits clearcutting on all national forest lands. This prohibition includes all types of even-age logging operations, including seed-tree cutting and shelterwood cutting. The only exception is for the removal of clearly defined invasive tree species to permit restoration of native tree species.
  • Prohibits logging that creates openings of more than a 1/5 acre. This is the equivalent of the area between the end-zone and 20-yard line on a football field. It is important to note that the previous clearing limit was 40 acres, and the Bush administration just eliminated that. This size opening is the maximum, and like other logging permitted by the Act, is only permitted if it is in keeping with protection of the native biodiversity.
  • Prohibits highgrading, or the removal of only the larger or commercially desirable trees in a stand.
  • Limits logging levels to a maximum of 20% of the basal area of a stand within a 30-year period, and less than that in forests with less than 20% per year growth. This ensures that the national forests will be growing far more volume of high quality tree biomass, tending towards natural forests with old growth characteristics, than the very limited amount biomass removed by the logging permitted by the Act.
  • Emphasizes individual tree selection and removal, based on the principles of natural selection.
  • Emphasizes removal of weaker, non-dominant cull trees.
  • Emphasizes leaving uncut the stronger dominant trees in a stand.
  • Ensures maintenance of continuous forest cover.
  • Ensures maintenance and continuous regrowth of natural forest ecosystems.
  • Ensures that dead trees and snags are left in each stand.

8) Forest Planning
The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976 requires the Forest Service to revise forest management plans at least every 15 years. At least 40 revisions are currently underway in National Forests around the country. These plans are crucial as they guide long-term forest management. In December 2004, the Bush administration issued new NFMA regulations, and in March 2005 planning directives were issued to supplement the new regulations. In addition to the changes made regarding species viability (see Biodiversity section), the new regulations reduced the amount of analysis and public comment required to produce new forest plans. Specifically, the forest planning process now qualifies as a Categorical Exclusion not subject to the NEPA requirements. One major consequence of the new regulations is that a range of alternatives no longer need to be analyzed, thus eliminating one of the cornerstones of NEPA.

In addition, the new NFMA regulations will also lead to increased and more destructive logging on our National Forests. When Congress passed NFMA in 1976, it specifically instructed the Forest Service to develop regulations that limit the size of clearcuts, protect streams from logging, and restrict annual logging rates. The old NFMA regulations limited clearcuts to 40 acres, required 100-foot stream buffers, and restricted some logging in each national forest. The new Bush NFMA regulations do not contain any of these regulations, thus leaving our national forests vulnerable to larger clearcuts, streamside logging, and unsustainable logging rates.

The Act to Save America’s Forests would prohibit the opening of roadless areas in the forest planning stage and both guide and greatly restrict the amount of logging allowed in each forest plan. For example, instead of a return to the days of massive clearcuts, clearcuts would be prohibited and clearing size would be limited to a maximum of just 1/5 of an acre. Logging and road-building would be prohibited within 300 ft of an active stream or natural lake. And instead of boosted logging levels, cutting would be limited to 20% basal area every 30 years in each stand.


The Bush Administration is carrying out the timber industry’s long-term agenda of wiping out the entire legal framework which forest protection activists used to derive some protection for the national forests over the past three decades. The national forests are currently vulnerable to massive increased logging levels across the board.

Clearly, the national forests need a new comprehensive law at least as strong, and preferably much stronger than, the patchwork of laws and regulations that existed in the past. As this brief demonstrates, the Act to Save America’s Forests counters the entire gamut of Bush attacks, and goes much farther than any previous protections, and would lead to solid protection for existing natural forests and towards full restoration of native biodiversity and old growth forests throughout the entire national forest system.

Some in the forest protection community have argued in the past that the Act should just protect roadless areas, Ancient Forests, riparian areas, and special places from any logging, and remove all of the above prescriptive logging language that applies to the remaining portions of the national forests. Thus, the key question is how to best protect non-roadless/ancient forests: the status quo utilizing lawsuits, or strict prescriptive logging language. Under the former, large portions of our national forest system would be left without any real protections, logging would continue to degrade the surrounding forest ecosystems, and would repeat the same mistake politically that has been made over the past hundred years which is to agree to allow large areas to be sacrificed in exchange for protection of some others. We need an ecologically comprehensive plan to cover the entire national forest system, which draws our movement into a, powerful force, and actually has a chance of passing Congress. The Act to Save America’s Forests is the one bill that can fulfill those requirements.

Save America's Forests Home Page