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
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.
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 TRandall@nationalcenter.org.