"We Can Win"

Speech by Senator Robert Torricelli at the April 28th 1998
press conference for the Act to Save America’s Forests

"Thank you very much. ‘You can’t thank me enough’, but this is a good start. I appreciate the time. I am particularly grateful to Carl Ross and Dr. Wilson, and indeed to each of the people here today from the scientific community. While the Congress debates the severity of the loss of American forests, and hundreds of politicians may have their own views, the scientific testimony you are going to hear today should be both decisive and conclusive. This is not a close call. The numbers are overwhelming. In its natural state, North America contained one billion acres of clear, virgin forests. Only five percent of those forests are now left without having been destroyed. I noticed on the chart that among the first states in the nation to lose all their virgin forests was the state of New Jersey. Some have asked why, from the most densely-populated and suburbanized state in the nation, I would take the lead in the saving of virgin forests. There are no virgin forests left to save in New Jersey. There haven’t been for more than a century. Essentially, the message that I bring the rest of the country is ‘do not do what we have done’. Your quality of life, your economic future, your obligation to future generations, depends on saving these virgin forests.

"Only last year, I concluded what was a decade-long fight to save the Sterling Forest on the border of New York and New Jersey. It was difficult and enormously expensive. It cost millions of dollars, after threatening our watersheds and our last recreational lands, because that decision was not made years ago. There is still a chance for the little remaining virgin forests of America to make that decision now, while there are watersheds, while there’s a habitat for endangered species, and before the cost becomes absolutely overwhelming. Every year, not only does the cost rise, but the amount of forest left to save is obviously diminished. Part of the reason that we have not succeeded in this fight to save virgin forests is that there is no scientifically-based plan today. There are people with political philosophies of federal forest management; there has not been a plan based on good science. This is part of what we want to change.

"As it has already been suggested, it is getting extremely late. From 1984 to 1991, a quarter of a million acres were clearcut annually. During the same time only thirty-three thousand acres were harvested using protective selective management practices. We know the right way to harvest forests, and we know what should be protected, and we recognize what is irresponsible and dangerous. But the practices continue. At the same time, the Forest Service has constructed 370,000 miles of roads through these national forests. Those Americans would be shocked to know that taxpayer dollars were used to construct a system of roads, primarily for the interest of harvesting wood for private corporations, a road system that is eight times the length of the interstate highway system, at a cost, from 1992 to 1994 alone, of $245 million. It is not only the most outrageous national corporate subsidy, it is the most dangerous. If the money were simply wasted, it would be bad enough; but it’s worst than waste. It is the destruction of streams, habitats, and the nation’s little remaining forests.

"The list, indeed, of danger is extensive, contributing to species extinction, soil erosion, and flooding of streams that flow through the forests, declining water quality, and obviously, diminishing commercial and sport fisheries. Fortunately, while the degradation has continued, political pressure has increased, and we are not without some successes. It may have taken more than a century to begin to achieve some legislative success, but there is some reason for optimism. Last fall, the Bryan timber road amendment lost by a single vote. Nothing charts our success better than that the Congress has finally begun to recognize the degradation, the waste, the destruction of building these timber roads. In March, the House defeated H.R. 2515, which would have allowed clearcutting of vast areas of trees under the guise of forest health, our most significant legislative success in defeating an attempt for legislative endorsement of clearcutting. And of course, the administration responding to the proposed vote on Bryan, my amendment, and others, to place a temporary moratorium on new road construction in roadless areas, the decision for which President Clinton and Vice-President Gore deserve considerable praise.

"Yet, these are only incremental steps, the moratorium is not a prohibition, the moratorium was not nearly comprehensive enough, and losing by a single vote is not sufficient while destruction continues. We are heartened by our progress but we are not resting on it either. To make a real difference and preserve the remaining wild forests, we need, as I’ve suggested, a comprehensive science-based management system. That is what S. 977, my Act to Save America's Forests, is all about. Reduce the polemics, increase the science, and develop a national plan to save our forests. This legislation would protect the remaining core areas of biodiversity in our federal forest system, by prohibiting logging and roadbuilding within this system. This includes thirteen million acres of ancient forests, nine million acres of roadless areas, and four million acres of other specifically designated areas. It draws a line around that little virgin forest that remains, and offers some permanent protection. This bill would abolish environmentally dangerous forms of logging, such as clearcutting and even-aged logging, in non-core areas. It would require selection management practices, the preservation of buffer areas along streams and water bodies to protect vital watersheds, recognizing that even now, under those practices deemed to be safe and protective, we are continuing with the destruction of these streams, causing erosion, meaning that even in replanting or the natural regrowth of forests, erosion and the loss of species in the streams will be permanent.

"Some argue that this plan would cost jobs and drastically reduce the nation’s timber supply. If there is any lesson that we have learned in recent decades, it is that good environmental protection enhances sound economic growth. There is more to the maintenance of the quality of life in America than artificially maintaining low timber prices by the destruction of ancient forests and virgin lands. The quality of life in America means not only economic growth and low timber prices, but also recreational areas for fishing, the ability to walk through ancient forests, the ability to share the beauty of America, as it was known in its pristine state, with our children and our families. These are all part of maintaining our quality of life in America. We believe that quality of life can be maintained and enhanced while permitting sound economic development and preserving these forests.

"Today we offer the most compelling testimony yet, from the most respected scientists in America, who speak about this dispassionately, factually, and on a sound basis of knowledge of what the continued destruction means for our country. For each of their testimonies today I am extremely grateful. For all of you who have worked for this cause for so long, I thank you very very much. I know it has been a long fight. I know sometimes it has been discouraging. I know the interests that are against us are enormous and are extremely powerful and well-funded. They cannot escape the conclusion: when we have lost recently, we have lost narrowly, and when we have won, it has been on important pieces of legislation. The President has been our ally; he has shown that we can gather enough votes in the Congress. There is no reason on this issue any longer to compromise, or to delay, or to accept defeat. We can win. The legislation I offer for you today is our final marker. It is a declaration of our intention to have total success in protecting America’s national forests. Thank you all very, very much."