Bush Team Pushes Huge Timber Sale Under Guise of Fire Protection

July 07, 2004

Under the guise of preventing forest fires, the Bush administration is planning the biggest timber sale on public lands in modern history. The Biscuit Project would allow logging of 372 million board feet of timber across 30 square miles of southwest Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest—enough timber to fill 70,000 logging trucks. The logging would be done on wildlands of uncommon beauty and ecological diversity, far from any community that could be damaged in a fire.

"It's the biggest logging sale since World War II," says Steve Holmer, communications director with the Unified Forest Defense Campaign, a coalition of national and regional conservation organizations. "Timber companies have made huge contributions to the Bush campaign. This project is political payback."

Holmer tells BushGreenwatch that the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) initially proposed a much smaller project. "When the Forest Service first started looking at the area, they planned maybe a 100 million board feet sale." That changed once Mark Rey, formerly a top lobbyist for the timber industry who is now the administration's undersecretary for natural resources and environment in the Department of Agriculture, began to work on the sale.

Conservationists will "fight tooth and nail" against sales in roadless areas and old-growth reserves, but may support some careful logging in the areas in between, called "matrix lands," says Holmer.

The Biscuit Logging Project may violate federal forest protection rules. Some areas are protected under the Clinton-era Roadless Area Conservation Rule, while the huge size of the project may violate the Northwest Forest Plan, also adopted during the Clinton administration. [1] Moreover, logging will disqualify 48,000 acres of the Siskiyou from consideration as federal wilderness area.

In an unusual step, the USFS has granted "emergency exemptions" to 11 sales included in the project. These exemptions enable the USFS to allow logging to begin immediately after issuing its final plan for each sale, even though there is usually a waiting period required for public appeal.

Holmer sees politics in this rush to cut. "This is an election year. Oregon was a close state in the last election. The Bush administration is using the Biscuit Project to show they've come up with a solution to the fire issue." There is also an economic factor. "If the trees aren't cut soon, they'll rot to the point of losing economic value. If they're not logged this summer, [the timber companies] will pretty much lose their chance."

The areas encompassed by the Biscuit Project were burned in the 2002 "Biscuit Fire," the largest forest fire in Oregon's history. Fire is an intrinsic part of the ecology of western forests, and the Siskiyou has already begun to regenerate. [2] The burned trees are ecologically essential to the area's recovery, and sit on some of the Siskiyou's wildest and most fragile acres--including old-growth reserves, steep streambanks and riverbanks, and salmon spawning grounds.

In addition to being one of the largest public lands logging sales in history, the Biscuit Logging Project may be one of the most expensive to taxpayers, ultimately costing the public over $34 million.

"There are costs to preparing a sale," says Holmer. "The Forest Service has to build roads. Or if it's logging with helicopters, you've got to create landing pads, 2-acre clearcuts. Also, salvage timber sells at 25-percent of green timber. It's the same wood, same volume, at fire sale prices. The timber industry gets a huge windfall because it's a salvage project."

Holmer emphasizes the survival of the forest—a shelter for wildlife and wild rivers—is at stake.

"Under the Clinton administration, the Siskiyou was almost made a national monument. It's an area of unparalleled biological diversity, home to rare species that exist only in this region, clean water for salmon, and very important to the local tourism and recreation industry. If there was going to be a new national park on the west coast, the Siskiyou would be a prime candidate."

You can call your US Senators at 202-224-3121 and let them know what you think of this timber sale. To find out who your Senators are you can go to: http://www.senate.gov

[1] "Biscuit Salvage: Biggest Timber Sale in History," The Wilderness Society:
[2] Ibid.



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