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The Destruction of America's Last Wild Forests


Decades of Rampant Clearcutting in Our National Forests Is Ruining America's Last Wild Forests.

But a new bill in the U.S. Congress, the Act to Save America's Forests, would protect and restore these national treasures.

America was once covered with one billion acres of towering primeval forests.   These forests were teeming with plants and animals, a treasure-trove of evolutionary diversity and biological richness. Giant, centuries-old trees had trunks more than 15 feet wide and soared to the height of 30 story skyscrapers. 

In the past 500 years, aggressive logging and development have destroyed over 95% of these original forests. The last remnants of America's virgin and natural forests, with their unique and irreplaceable life, reside mostly on our national forests. The 155 national forests cover a large portion of our country, an area about the size of California Oregon and Washington combined, and stretch from Alaska to Florida. Most states have at least one national forest. 

Deforestation is occurring on a massive scale in our national forests and is clearly visible from space. Satellite photos show that the rate of clearcutting in places like the Olympic National Forest of Washington state equals or exceeds the destruction in the Brazilian rainforests. Clearcutting describes logging which cuts down all or most of the trees in a forest area, destroying the forest. A World Resources Institute report concluded that the last of the original forests in this country will be lost without immediate action.

In response to the escalating deforestation crisis in the United States, 5 Senators and 90 Representatives now support the Act to Save America's Forests (S. 977, H.R. 1376), the most comprehensive forest protection legislation in U.S. history. This legislation would immediately halt and reverse the deforestation on our public lands. Other efforts to halt the deforestation have not succeeded. It is imperative that all Americans work together to pass this bill, before our nation's natural heritage is lost forever.

For decades, citizens have attempted to stop Forest Service destruction of our public forestlands by using the timber sale appeals process, lawsuits, and participation in national forest planning. Despite all these efforts, the Forest Service continues to allow private timber companies to clearcut old growth and roadless forests throughout our national forest system, destroying critical forest habitat, ruining important recreational areas and violating the public trust.

The costs to the American people in environmental damage and wasted tax dollars are staggering. Increased species extinction, flooding and landslides are examples of the destruction resulting from clearcutting in fragile forest watersheds.

Natural forests act as giant sponges that regulate the flow of water into streams and rivers. During and after rain, the trees and shrubs hold vast amounts of water in their trunks and leaves, and their roots bind and stabilize the soil.

Clearcut areas don't absorb water. Instead, when heavy rains come, clearcut areas allow for rapid runoff, causing flooding and erosion. The floodwater transports tons of silt, clogging waterways. In steep areas, the earth can no longer resist the pull of gravity and pulls away in a landslide.

Downstream in the valleys, homes and lives are ruined by a wall of water and mud. Government subsidies are needed to help communities and individuals repair the damage. In recent years, major floods and landslides in the California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho have caused billions of dollars of damage to public and private property. Many people were injured and some were even killed. Some landslides were directly attributable to clearcut forest areas.

This tragedy of deforestation on our public lands is multiplied by the fact that taxpayer dollars help subsidize the clearcutting of our national forests.  Billions of dollars are allocated to the Forest Service to pay the costs of building logging roads and administering timber sales. The timber industry buys the subsidized timber. The result is private profit causing public forest destruction.

Natural forests are home to thousands of native plants and animals interconnected in a delicate web of life. Each organism is interdependent on the other. The spotted owl eats voles, a small rodent. Voles eat fungi and disperse the fungi spores in their waste which then grown in the ground on the roots of the giant trees. The fungi are essential to helping the trees take up vital nutrients through their roots from the soil. Each organism plays a role in the healthy functioning of the forest. The forest is teeming with life, from common insects living in rotting logs on the forest floor to rare moss and lichens that only grow in the branches of trees, high in the forest canopy.

Because of massive forest destruction caused by clearcutting, the delicate web of life in our forests is unraveling. Scientists say that the earth is experiencing a wave of extinction. The leading cause of extinction is destruction of native habitat by such human activities as clearcutting and logging roads. Each year of continued clearcutting in the national forests leads to the loss of more species.

The congressional sponsors of the Act to Save America's Forests, Senator Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), and Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Caroline Maloney (D-NY) are rapidly moving this legislation forward. "This Senate's going to have a very clear choice," said Torricelli. "Twenty years of clearcutting forests can end with a simple vote in the United States Senate". 

The Act to Save America's Forests is "the first federal legislation in history that would halt and reverse deforestation in the United States," said Carl Ross, director of the Save America's Forests coalition. After centuries of logging, less than 5% of this country's 1 billion acres of original forests remain standing. In the lower 48 states less than 1% of the original forest remains in blocks large enough to sustain the native plants and animals.

"This is the last chance to save these forests," said Rep. Maloney.

Protecting Our National Forests Using the Principles of Conservation Biology According to the principles of conservation biology, to sustain natural forest ecosystems, large "core" forest areas need to be completely off limits to logging, roads, and other man made intrusions. The forests surrounding the "core" areas can sustain limited amounts of logging, but not too much.

Clearcutting should not be used at all. In this way, the core forest and the surrounding forest can sustain all the natural ecology. 

The Act to Save America's Forests designates "core" areas of biological diversity throughout the entire national forest system. The Act places these "core" forests off limits to logging and roadbuilding. The Act then allows only a small, strictly limited amount of ecologically sustainable "selection logging" outside the protected areas. Clearcutting is strictly prohibited.

America's last remaining, unprotected Ancient Forests are among the premier "core" areas protected forever by the Act to Save America's Forests. Millions of acres of these spectacular forests in the Pacific Northwest and the Sierra Nevada will be protected for future generations. These forests of thousand-year-old trees are home to the endangered spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, fishers, martens, and other animals emblematic of America's wildlife heritage.

The lifeblood of these pristine forests are crystal clear streams which provide habitat for endangered salmon and trout. These Ancient Forests are faced with the constant threat of logging, placing many species in danger of extinction.

The bill also would prohibit logging and roadbuilding in roadless forest areas throughout the entire country. The rocky mountain region has the largest unroaded areas in the lower 48 states. Many roadless forest areas in this region remain mostly as they were before Columbus set foot on this continent, wild and untamed. This is the only region in lower 48 states where the grizzly still roam free. Massive new logging and roadbuilding projects in these national forests are already degrading this region. With light rainfall, mountainous terrain, and fragile soils, these forests are particularly vulnerable to clearcut logging. When timber companies clearcut these forests, they may not grow back for centuries.

The Act to Save America's Forests would also end logging and roadbuilding in more than 100 "special" forest areas that have great importance for the protection of biodiversity. Most of these "special" areas have been logged or roaded and therefore do not qualify for protection as roadless or Ancient Forests. Nevertheless, they are rich in native forest species and are critical to protecting local forest types and habitats. Selection for inclusion in the bill was based on information from scientists and local forest experts across the country.

The giant sequoias are one example of a 'special area' protected in the Act to Save America's Forests. The sequoia's are among the largest, longest living trees on earth. These ancient sentinels grow in a limited area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains; confined to about 150 secluded groves. Although some of these groves are protected within national park boundaries, many of the groves lie in the national forests -- unprotected.

In a typically misguided policy, the US Forest Service has unbelievably allowed logging all around these fragile groves. The sequoia grows naturally in stands of trees with many other species, such as Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. Logging within the sequoia groves threatens the existence of the sequoia. It exposes the trees to the full force of the wind and kills the intertwining root systems that help keep the sequoia standing.

The Act to Save America's Forests would protect the remaining groves of giant sequoias that live on lands owned by the US Forest Service. From all over the world people come to see these giant forests. This national heritage must be protected for the benefit of all Americans and the inherent value of the noble sequoia forests.

There are many other special areas around the country, less well known than the giant sequoias, but equally stunning in their beauty and biological richness. Like the giant sequoia groves, the Sipsey wilderness of Alabama, and the Cochetopa Hills of Colorado are threatened by clearcutting and roadbuilding.

The Sipsey wilderness is located in the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama. The Sipsey is a wonderland of diverse hardwood forests dissected by mysterious canyons harboring rare   plants and secret waterfalls. Noted for its outstanding biological diversity, half of all fern species in Alabama are found in the Sipsey along with 147 species of birds and 53 kinds of amphibians and lizards. Migrating songbirds find rare habitat in the interior forests.

Flowing through the wilderness is the Sipsey River. It is designated a Wild and Scenic River, and is home to an endangered species of freshwater shellfish.

The U.S. Forest Service has allowed destructive clearcutting throughout most of the Bankhead National Forest, degrading the entire ecosystem and threatening the survival of the Sipsey Wilderness area itself. The Forest Service has been destroying the diverse species of plants and animals throughout the Bankhead National Forest, and replacing these beautiful natural forests with sterile tree farms. The Act to Save America's Forests will force the Forest Service to stop clearcutting and restore natural forests throughout the Bankhead National Forest, and will prevent any logging in the Sipsey Wilderness.

The forests of the Cochetopa Hills are spread throughout three national forests in the southern Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Gunnison, the Grand Mesa and the Umcompadre. The Cochetopa Hills are known for unusual mixed stands of conifers. Ponderosa pine, Bristlecone pine, aspen and Engleman spruce are found growing together. This is just one aspect of the Cochetopa Hills' high biological diversity. 

Cochetopa means "pass of the buffalo" in the Ute language. This descriptive name reveals the unique quality of the area as an ecological interface zone and important wildlife corridor. The pass at Cochetopa is low elevation, creating vital winter habitat and migration corridors for many animals such as black bear and elk. Distinctive interior wetlands also attract wildlife to this semi-arid part of the Rockies. These rare wild forests are threatened with destructive logging and roadbuilding, but would be protected with the passage of the Act to Save America's Forests. On all national forests, the bill makes protection and restoration of native biodiversity the primary goal of federal forest   management practices. It outlaws artificial tree farms and requires the Forest Service to either actively restore native species or allow natural succession to take its course in re-establishing native ecosystems.

In 1995, the timber industry pressured Congress to pass a bill that suspended all environmental laws on the national forests for 2 ˝ years, and increased logging of rare, previously protected Ancient Forests. The Ancient Forests, the roadless areas forests, and other biologically critical forests were clearcut and degraded, and the public could not stop this destruction. The timber industry is now trying to pass a new law in Congress that will similarly increase the clearcutting on our national forests, but this time will be permanent. This would be a disaster.  Congress should not pass new timber bills that would accelerate the destruction on our national forests. Instead, Congress should pass the Act to Save America's Forests, which will protect our forests forever.

"The Act to Save America's Forests represents a 180-degree turn from the federal government's current approach to managing federal forests," said Rep. Eshoo. "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 preserve and enhance forested areas for future generations."

Today, America has the opportunity to chart a new course. The Act to Save America's Forests would not only protect the forests of California, but offers nationwide protection of our public lands.  Please phone and write your Senators and Representatives and urge them to  cosponsor H.R. 1376, the Act to Save America's Forests.  For more information about the campaign to pass the Act to Save America's Forests, please contact Save America's Forests at 4 Library Court, SE Washington, DC 20003, 202-544-9219.

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