A year ago, a Bush administration plan to localize decisions for federal forest management drew the predictable fire of activists and Democrats.
"This administration hears only one voice, that of its friends in the timber industry," charged Roger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
"Nearly a quarter of a century of environmental safeguards for our national forests are about to be tossed aside," lamented William H. Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society.
On Nov. 27, 2002, in the wake of the announcement, 15 House and Senate Democrats, including California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, wrote a letter to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth attacking the proposal. The proposal sought to exempt certain forest projects from National Environmental Policy Act paperwork and eliminate a Clinton-era mandate that forest managers guarantee the "viability" of entire "ecosystems."
We've heard these debates before. What's interesting is the specific charge that the Bush administration was coddling the timber industry. As the Sacramento Bee reported on Nov. 28, 2002, "The Bush administration wants to shift authority over logging decisions back to managers of the country's 155 national forests, a move that critics immediately attacked ... as a gift to the timber industry and another 'back-door' assault on the environment."
National forest reform remains trapped by inertia. So let's fast-forward a year and see how much better off we are without any "gifts" to the timber industry which would "assault" the environment, according to our environmentalist friends.
All of that premeditated, rampant, unrestricted logging would have devastated our forests, right? Well, the alternative happened this summer. The National Interagency Fire Center reports that this calendar year to date, the nation has choked on the smoke from more than 6,000 major forest fires. According to www.nifc.gov, 6,394 large fires were contained by Oct. 1. From Jan. 1-Oct. 1, the nation's forests - most of them national forests - lost 3,190,239 acres to a staggering 49,397 fires. The Deschutes National Forest in Central Oregon alone lost 90,769-plus acres thanks to the B&B Fire. You don't experience catastrophic fires of this magnitude unless the forests contain massive amounts of woody debris, both brushy or downed material and merchantable timber.
How much air pollution did the nation experience thanks to this lack of care for our forests? We sure weren't breathing the dust from chain saws, as administration critics would make one think from their rhetoric. Management of our national forests has hit a standstill. Sawmills continue to close. Log truck drivers and related operators search for new occupations.
Then there was this news: The timber industry of the Pacific Northwest took a significant hit on Oct. 1 when Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, a 31-year resident of Portland, announced it will relocate its corporate headquarters to Nashville, Tenn. How did outgoing Portland Mayor Vera Katz respond to the news?
"A Katz spokesman said the LP relocation is part of the state's shift from a natural resource-based economy to an information and technology-based economy," the Oregonian reported.
I hate to break the news to Katz and her glib colleagues, but this self-inflicted "shift" currently has the state mired in the nation's highest unemployment. Businesses are bolting. Government infrastructure is crumbling. Residents are angry. Their beloved state has become the laughing stock of the nation. More pointedly, Nashville just benefitted from the shortsightedness of Oregon's leaders. The Democratic Party may want to explain to its blue-collar constituents why party officials continue to listen to environmental groups that distort the real cause for the region's and the nation's economic and environmental malaise.
LP Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Mark Suwyn said, "Nashville is an excellent fit for our company as we concentrate on growing our businesses. It's closer to our mills, customers and financial shareholders, while offering an affordable, good quality of life for our employees and a positive business climate."
Hear that, Vera? "Closer to our mills." The implication is that the sawmill infrastructure in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest has been decimated to the point that a major timber company no longer can function here. More depressing is the fact that "information and technology," meaning computers and Web sites, will not prevent more devastating forest fires. You need chain saws, log trucks and sawmills to do that. Oregon just won't be doing it with Louisiana-Pacific Corporation's help.
David Carkhuff is the former editor of the Blue Mountain Eagle. Anyone with comments about "Editor's Opinion" can contact the interim editor by calling 575-0710 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.