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Death to Trees! And Elk! And Bald Eagles!

How should America's 190 million acres of national forest be managed?  Nine Republican congressmen, led by Rep. Stevan Pearce of New Mexico, have the answer in a bill introduced last month:  Forests are for logging. And to hell with everything else.

The bill, H.R. 1202, is short and not-so-sweet. The meat of the bill is a single sentence: 

Notwithstanding any other law, rule, or regulation … the Secretary of Agriculture shall permit any person who applies to carry out a timber activity on National Forest System land to carry out such activity. 

What does this mean?  It means the Forest Service MUST allow ANY logging proposal anyone brings to them.  It doesn’t matter what the impact of the logging is. It doesn’t matter if the logging proposal would otherwise violate laws meant to protect, say, community drinking water supplies.  It doesn’t matter if it would cost the U.S. Treasury millions.  The Forest Service has to approve the logging and the roads that go with it.  Period.


Under this bill, hunters beware.  Current forest planning documents protect important forested elk habitat.  H.R. 1202 would permit the logging of any and all that habitat, even if it results in the extirpation of elk from the forests.

Under this bill, one could propose to log all bald eagle nest sites on National Forest lands.  And if you wanted to log when chicks were on the nest, Rep. Pearce’s bill says “go ahead.”

Under this bill, all 35 million acres of Forest Service lands designated by Congress as “wilderness” will be open for logging.  This represents a radical attack on the wilderness system, gutting the Wilderness Act’s central purpose:  to leave lands wild and undeveloped for future generations.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado. His district includes Pikes Peak, the view from which inspired the phrase “purple mountains majesty” in “America the Beautiful.”  Those purple mountains, in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest, could be shaved bald, turned into rutted messes of logging roads with no protection for streams, and left barren of habitat thanks to the bill Rep. Lamborn supports.

(The bill does include two minor caveats. Clearcuts could be approved only in some cases. And the Forest Service must establish “a” reserve for one endangered species, the Mexican spotted owl. Every other endangered species on forest land - grizzlies, lynx, wolverine - is out of luck.)

What’s most sad about this bill is that the nine representatives who’ve sponsored it think it’s good politics, that they will gain support or please their constituents by calling for the end of wilderness and the national forests as we know them. 

It’s also sad to see how the Republican party has devolved from its roots.  President Theodore Roosevelt, the GOP's leader in the first decade of the 20th Century, was our nation’s preeminent conservationist.  He pleaded, in the name of “manly” hunters and nature lovers alike, for “wise laws” to protect America’s forests “from wanton destruction.”  His words, reproduced below, are a stirring call to action.  It’s too bad so many members of his own party are deaf to these words today.

Every believer in manliness, and therefore in manly sport, and every lover of nature, every man who appreciates the majesty and beauty of the wilderness and of wild life, should strike hands with the far-sighted men who wish to preserve our material resources, in the effort to keep our forests and our game beasts, game birds, and game fish - indeed, all the living creatures of prairie, and woodland, and seashore - from wanton destruction.

Above all, we should realize that the effort toward this end is essentially a democratic movement.  It is entirely in our power as a nation to preserve large tracts of wilderness, which are valueless for agricultural purposes and unfit for settlement, as playgrounds for rich and poor alike, and to preserve the game so that it shall continue to exist for the benefit of all lovers of nature, and to give reasonable opportunities for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether he is or is not a man of means.  But this end can only be achieved by wise laws and by a resolute enforcement of the laws.  Lack of such legislation and administration will result in harm to all of us, but most of all in harm to the nature lover who does not possess vast wealth.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1902.