SAN FRANCISCO — "Environmental and economic folly" by the U.S. Forest Service is undermining a 1976 law designed to protect the nation's forests, environmentalists contend.
In a critique to be released today, the 160,000-member Wilderness Society accuses the Forest Service of ignoring the National Forest Management Act and "destroying irreplaceable natural resources (while) . . . taxpayers are losing billions of dollars supporting below-cost timber sales."
At issue are management plans being drafted for each of the more than 100 national forests, as required by the act. The plans are supposed to improve forest management, but Wilderness Society President George Frampton Jr. said he believes the Forest Service "has no intention of implementing the reforms mandated by Congress."
Deputy Regional Forester Richard (Griff) Greffenius said Friday that the Forest Service had not received the Wilderness Society report, but he denied that his agency is ignoring the law.
"We feel very confident that what we're proposing is well within the law," he said.
"It is really too early (for the Wilderness Society) to judge," he added, since government foresters still are studying how to balance the needs of the lumber industry, recreational uses, wildlife and the environment.
Draft plans that have been studied still may be changed. "In many cases," he said, "we're making considerable changes" before issuing final plans.
The Wilderness Society is concerned because, for example, eight draft plans issued so far in California alone call for a 9% increase in clear-cutting, said Jay Watson of the society's San Francisco office.
Clear-cutting is a technique in which virtually every tree in an area is harvested, as opposed to selective cuts that take only carefully chosen trees and leave the rest to grow.
Environmentalists contend that clear-cutting, especially of "old growth" trees, causes erosion that clogs rivers, harms fish and wildlife and ruins the land for recreational uses. Logging roads also permitted by the plans would do the same, they said.
Clear-cutting is allowed under the 1976 law, but the Wilderness Society says management plans in many forests allow excessive clear-cutting in steep areas or otherwise not easily accessible areas. This, they argue, results in low bids by lumber companies, and the Forest Service often does not recoup even the costs of arranging the sales.
Despite a mandate in the 1976 law to avoid such below-cost timber auctions, sales will cost taxpayers $2 billion over the coming decade if proposed Forest Service management plans are not revised, the group charges.
"Contrary to the clear meaning of the (act), the Forest Service is rigidly determined to manage the national forests principally for (timber) production . . . regardless of the costs to the taxpayer and the environment," the group concluded.