Our National Forests Need Your Voice
By Bruce Cortis
Last year over 1.5 million Americans contacted the US Forest service asking for protection of our last remaining public lands. The result was a final forest policy intent on saving the remaining 58.5 million acres of our national forest from logging, mining and road building, including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. Unfortunately, a new administration is working diligently to undermine that protection and prove that nothing in politics is permanent.
Since the creation of the National Forest system, our forest plans have actually encouraged development rather than protection. Of the 180 million plus acres within our national forest system, over half have already been opened to mining, logging and road building. The Forest Service has actually built nearly 440,000 miles of roads through our forests, nearly enough to circle the globe seventeen times.
At the mercy of DC politics, our national forests are slowly being cashed in as the political blue chips of Congress. In addition to the destruction of our public lands at the hands of private industries, the timber industry also had the public foot the bill at a cost of at least $200 million a year. There is little doubt that the $10 million contributed to Congress in the form of campaign contributions by the timber industry over the past seven years was a wise investment, with a very large return.
A meager eighteen percent of the National Forest System was protected as of last year when the then Chief of the US Forest Service, Mike Dombeck, proposed a public comment period to determine the fate of the stand of the remaining 58.5 million acres. The response was overwhelming. Over six hundred public hearings were held at which the vast majority of the respondents spoke in favor of forest protection. Over one and a half million public comments (more than five times the amount of any other federal rule in history) made it clear that the public wanted these wild lands set aside for future generations to appreciate rather than serve as a subsidy to timber and mining interests. Unfortunately, the voice of the public wasn't the only part of the equation.
Since taking office the Bush Administration has demonstrated a fierce willingness to roll-back environmental protection. From backpedaling on the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, to the appointment of a former mining industry lobbyist-Gale Norton-to the Secretary of the Interior, the administration immediately began to detail its anti-environmental agenda.
Next on that agenda is the roll-back of the broadly supported protection of our National Forests. Just as the President initially ignored the findings of the National Academy of Sciences on standards for arsenic in our drinking water, he intends to turn a deaf ear to the millions of Americans that overwhelmingly support protection of our national forests.
We are at a critical stage in the protection of public lands. The re-examination of our roadless policy is under way. We must speak again. Ask recently appointed Chief Bosworth to leave the roadless policy intact including the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
To submit your comment to the Forest Service you can contact the them via mail at: USDA Forest Service, CAET Attn: Roadless ANPR Comments PO Box 221090 Salt Lake City, UT 84122 or via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or fax 1-801-296-4090 (ATTN: Roadless ANPR Comments)
Bruce Cortis has worked with the State PIRG's (Public Interest
Research Group's) since 1997. He is currently WashPIRG's Program
Associate, working on state and national environmental campaigns.
He resides in Seattle and can be reached at WashPIRG: (206) 568-2850.