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 # 425  

August 2002




Daschle's Election Year Ploy May Open Door for Return of Sound Forest Management Policies


by Tom Randall

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club may accidentally have opened the door for the return to sound forest management in the United States, and the eventual return to policies preventing catastrophic wildfires.

With record-setting monster wildfires raging throughout the west and elsewhere, residents in Daschle's home state of South Dakota, like many in the west, have been becoming concerned.

Not a good state of mind in an election year in which the majority leader's fellow South Dakotan, Senator Tim Johnson (D), is up for reelection. Particularly since Johnson won with just 51 percent of the vote in his last election and is opposed by Representative John Thune (R), who won his last state-wide race with 73 percent of the vote.

Apparently to ease South Dakota voters' state of mind, Daschle attached to a supplemental defense spending bill a measure that would exempt logging in South Dakota from restrictive environmental regulations. Daschle's move would allow logging to reduce dangerous fuel loads in the South Dakota's national forests.

Decisions to log in that state would also be exempt from lawsuits by environmentalists who oppose such logging, and who have successfully used lawsuits to promote their agenda.

Both of these features of the legislation would normally have environmentalists up in arms, decrying the supposed power of big corporations in the legislative process, screaming over the so-called destruction of our forests and the spoiling of pristine environments.

But the environmentalists' reaction to the Daschle pro-logging plan for South Dakota:

Hear no evil...

See no evil...

Speak no evil...

Mum's been the word.

Particularly loud is the silence of the Sierra Club, a fiercely anti-logging organization that has endorsed 13 Democrats and no Republicans in this year's Senate races, as well as 97 Democrats and just three Republicans as candidates for the House of Representatives this year.

Congressmen from all over the country, particularly from western states where wildfires have ravaged a modern record-setting four million-plus acres of forests already this year, are jumping into the opening provided by Daschle and his environmentalist allies.

Within hours of learning of Daschle's move to protect just South Dakota's national forests, many signed on to Representative Denny Rehberg's (R-MT) "National Forest Fire Prevention Act." It would extend to all states the same ability to log and thin forests to prevent forest fires as Daschle seeks to provide to just his own state.

Mr. Daschle and environmentalists face a dilemma. If logging and mechanical thinning are useful for preventing catastrophic fire in South Dakota, why not other states? States where the majority leader and environmental leaders have adamantly resisted logging. States where, they say, monster fires are natural and good for the environment.

According to Dr. Tom Bonnicksen, one of the nation's leading forestry experts and author of America's Ancient Forests: from the Ice Age to the Age of Discovery, the simple answer about the need to log is: yes.

"It is 2002, not 1802," Bonnicksen explains. "America has changed and so have our forests."

"[Historically, we had] sunny forests that explorers described as open enough to gallop a horse through without hitting a tree. Open and patchy forests like these were immune from the monster fires like those that scorched Arizona and Colorado this year."

He points out that today's forests are so overcrowded with trees of all sizes that more and hotter catastrophic, forest and wildlife-destroying fires are inevitable.

Bonnicksen points out that the cost to taxpayers of thinning the 73 million acres of national forests in need of treatment would be $60 billion in the first 15 years alone. Whereas logging, through traditional timber sales, would accomplish the job while actually producing revenue.

Environmentalists can't have it both ways, Bonnicksen claims, they are either "tree-huggers" or "fire-huggers."

Now that his election-year ploy in South Dakota has been uncovered, Mr. Daschle shouldn't be allowed to have it both ways. South Dakota's Black Hills deserve to be protected. But our forests in other states do, too.

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Tom Randall is the Director of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs of the John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC. Comments may be sent to [email protected].




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