Logging Without Roads
How Stealth Logging Is Destroying Our Last Wild Forests

President Clinton is trying to stake a substantial portion of his presidential legacy on a plan he announced in October 1999 to protect 60 million acres of National Forests that still remain wild and road-free. But if he ties that protection plan to roads alone, his legacy will not measure up. This Special Report highlights the stealth logging practices President Clinton's plan must address if our National Forests are to remain wild. They call it "cabling" or "forwarding." What they don't call it is logging. Yet that's exactly what it is-and the timber industry hopes no one finds out.

Over the years, Americans have become increasingly concerned about the impact logging is having on our National Forests. It's not just the felling of trees that worries people-it's that so many roads have been carved into our most prized wild forests to make logging possible. So when President Clinton directed the U.S. Forest Service last October to develop a policy for protecting up to 60 million acres of wild, undeveloped National Forest lands, Americans were relieved to hear that additional road building was not a part of the plan for these pristine areas. No more roads, no more logging, right?

Wrong. What many people do not realize is that eliminating road building does not preclude massive logging. Indeed, although Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck has imposed a temporary moratorium on road building on some National Forest lands, timber corporations are still able to level significant stretches of once wild forests even where no roads exist.

How? Through stealth logging techniques which have expanded timber corporations' reach and have made it possible to log forests up to two miles away from any road.

Keeping new roads out of forests does not qualify as protecting them.

What are these stealthy technologies that have reduced America's seemingly boundless forest frontiers to smaller areas ecologically fragmented by clearcuts and roads?

Forwarders-These self-propelled, self-loading log haulers with giant tires allow loggers to maneuver through dense forests that would be inaccessible to trucks. Because, conceptually, forwarders can ramble all over a forest site to load and carry logs back to a collection point, they are ideally suited for roadless area logging. Under optimum conditions, a large forwarder can easily move over 100,000 board feet a day.

Skylines-These long-span cable systems can extend as far as a mile and haul back timber of any size. In the right terrain and timber types, a large skyline can easily move over 100,000 board feet a day. This is twenty truck loads of wood in federal-sized timber.

"Choppers"-By far the most insidious tool for logging roadless areas, these ironically nicknamed helicopters can reach virtually any forest area within two miles of a road or landing and haul out individual, priceless trees one by one. The considerable expense of using helicopters virtually guarantees that only the oldest, largest, and most valuable trees will be logged.

Real-World Examples

Stealth logging in roadless areas is not an isolated phenomenon. In fact, such logging will likely be used extensively by timber companies if the final Clinton plan does not expressly eliminate all forms of logging in wild, roadless forests. The Heritage Forests Campaign, working with local conservation organizations, has identified numerous instances where stealth logging could get underway immediately. The following are three examples:

  • Colorado: In Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests, the Forest Service is considering proposals to log roadless areas with forwarders. A Forest Service spokesman has defended the proposals by pointing out that "there is not a moratorium on harvesting timber."
  • Wyoming: Only 7 percent of the Medicine Bow National Forest is protected wilderness. Nevertheless, the Forest Service is planning to log more than 1,000 acres of roadless areas here by using outside access roads to clear-cut large chunks of forest. The Forest Service is also considering creating a "travelway" by first downing trees and then driving over them.
  • Idaho: Using a combination of cable and tractor hauling and helicopter logging, the Forest Service plans to log 8,280 acres within and adjacent to a roadless area in Clearwater National Forest. The operation is designed to log 75 million board feet-enough to create a single piece of wood, one inch thick and one foot wide, extending nearly twice the diameter of the earth. The project area is one of only two remaining roadless portions of the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Forest Health?

Timber corporations and their political allies are increasingly using "forest health" arguments to promote more logging, especially in the last wild and roadless reaches of our National Forest System. They argue that forests need to be cut down to avert risk of catastrophic fire and insect infestation. However, the weakness of this excuse is revealed by three hard facts. One: logging, even "forest health" logging, causes significant ecological problems and can actually promote fires. Two: wild, roadless forests are generally those in the best ecological shape. And three: "forest health" logging to reduce fire risk is a giant, untested experiment.

On Green Alert

Simply halting the construction of new roads is not enough to protect the wild, undeveloped areas of America's National Forests. Even forests that are protected by the current road-building moratorium are still open to logging-not to mention mining, off-road vehicle use, and other destructive activities.

The president has given clear direction that these wild places should be protected. Unless the Forest Service's final rule prohibits all types of logging in roadless areas, much of our scenic, unprotected forest wilderness will remain vulnerable to chainsaws. Whatever form the administration's final plan takes, it must offer real protection for the last remaining wild areas in our National Forests.

In support of President Clinton's effort, the Heritage Forests Campaign has issued a five-point yardstick to help guide development of the final roadless protection policy:

  • No regional exemptions.
  • No logging or mining.
  • Permanence.
  • 1,000 acres or more.
  • Sound science.

By creating a final plan that responds to these conservation guidelines, President Clinton will establish his place among those presidents who have boldly stepped forward to do what's best for America - not just for today, but for generations to come. For more information, call Liz Brinton at (202) 331-4323.
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