The Sierra Club Replies: Who's Really Radical?

"The battle we have fought, and are still fighting for the forests is a part of the eternal conflict between right and wrong, and we cannot expect to see the end of it."

- John Muir, Sierra Club founder

Wherever John Muir is, he is smiling. His fighting spirit is still very much alive in the nation's oldest environmental organization.

In April, Sierra Club members voted by a wide margin to put the organization on record in support of legislation to stop all commercial logging of this nation's national forests and other federal publicly owned lands. This position was immediately denounced by the timber industry and its allies as a radical approach to conservation.

But let's stop and take a look at the situation. What is the more "radical" position?

The Sierra Club says that national forests and other public lands should be managed for recreation, wildlife habitat, watershed protection, firewood gathering, hunting, fishing, photography, wilderness preservation, scientific research, and other public purposes. We believe commercial logging should occur only on private lands.

In contrast, a look at the timber industry's legislative agenda indicates that it advocates taxpayer subsidized logging, unsustainable logging levels, logging of our last remaining ancient forests, logging of wilderness areas, logging that doesn't comply with existing environmental laws, and barring citizens from protecting public forests in court.

Hike through or fly over any national forest in the country and witness for yourself the massive clearcuts, eroded hillsides, and streams filled with silt and logging debris and then answer the question - who are the radicals?

The timber industry paints it as a "jobs vs. environment" issue. But over the last decade, far more jobs have been lost to automation and log exports than to reduced logging levels.

Between 1980 and 1991, the logging program on national forests operated at a net loss to taxpayers of $7.3 billion, and continues to lose enormous amounts of our money. They get the profits. We get the bill.

Why not stop commercial logging in our public forests and redirect those enormous corporate subsidies into a sweeping ecological-restoration jobs program? Not one more timber sale in our public forests; not one more job lost.

Ninety-five percent of America's original forests has been hauled to the mill. That's radical. What little pristine forest remains is almost entirely on federal public lands. It is being clearcut at a terrifying rate, especially now that the timber industry has pressured Congress and the president into suspending our public-forest protection laws.

A majority of Americans who responded to the Forest Service's nationwide poll said there shouldn't be any commercial resource extraction from public lands.

What's more, Forest Service figures show that only 12 percent of the nation's timber supply comes from national forests. We could more than make up this amount through increased efficiency and recycling alone, not to mention reducing exports of raw wood. The vast majority of US timberland is privately owned. We simply don't need to log our public forests.

THE timber barons are now arm-twisting for continued logging of fragile national forests even in the aftermath of recent severe flooding in the Northwest, which we now know was caused largely by rampant logging. Clearcut slopes on public land have stripped watersheds of their ability to absorb water or hold topsoil. Preliminary estimates put the damage at several hundred million dollars, which will come from taxpayers' pockets. Once again, who's extreme?

But the timber executives don't care how much we the people have to pay to clean up their messes. It's of no concern to them whether our kids grow up in a world where forests - real forests - are only a memory. They just want their profits.

The burden of proof isn't on those who want to end the logging of this nation's public forests; it's on those who suggest that it continue.

The timber industry has overstayed its welcome on our public lands. It is time to protect America's public forests, for our families and for our future.

* Mr. Hanson is a Sierra Club volunteer and author of the initiative that established the organization's new position opposing commercial logging on public land. Mr. Pope is executive director of the Sierra Club.

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