Spare the Redwoods

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MUCH of the media coverage of ``Redwood Summer'' - the campaign in the Pacific Northwest to slow the cutting of old-growth forests - has focused on the odd habits and appearance of members of environmental fringe groups such as Earth First. Activists in tie-dye T-shirts come across as either ``flakes'' or ``eco-terrorists.'' Some earlier sabotage tactics of such groups - ``monkeywrenching'' as described by author Edward Abbey - can be abhorrent. Tree spiking, for example, results in injury to loggers and is a criminal action, though instances of spiking are rare. In fact, the vast majority of environmentalists in the Northwest are avowedly nonviolent.

What's important is that their case be heard. Deforestation is the main issue. Possible extinction of the spotted owl is one problem. More important is the clear-cutting of ancient redwood forests. Nowhere else on earth do these magnificent trees - 200 to 1,000 years old - grow but in the fog-belt of wet winters and cool summers along the north Pacific coast. Most of the redwoods on private land are gone. Now the US Forest Service sells old growth on public lands - 70,000 acres a year. That's far too much, far too fast. Half the yield, much of it unmilled, is exported to Japan.

Add to this the premature clear-cutting of hundreds of thousands of acres of second-growth timber (trees 50 years and younger). The result? Deforestation in the Northwest outstrips that in the Amazon, says US forestry expert Jerry Franklin.

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Stands of old redwoods, Douglas firs, and Ponderosa pines are disconnected and no longer support wildlife and the ecosystem.

It's time to consider restricting all logging of ancient forests. The trees aren't mere commodities. They are national treasures, not to be used up in, or by, one generation. A long-term strategy is in order. The Ancient Forest Protection Act brought to Congress this term deserves support. So do new methods of milling and plank production using smaller trees. A House proposal last week to reduce cutting is welcome.

These prospects present a bitter cup for the timber industry. But the adjustment is needed.

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