Friday, April 13, 2007

Guest column:
Democrats could really help our forests

By Larry Reandeau
For The Daily Astorian

Friday, April 13, 2007

Democrats took charge of Congress this year for the first time in 12 years, promising a new direction for America.

Already, special interest groups have lined up. One such group is the environmentalists, who urge Congress to take steps to prohibit the harvesting of trees on federal lands.

If the Democrats are indeed committed to a new start, they must reject this simplistic effort and realize these policies are wrong for the United States - and the entire world. It is time for Democrats to develop a responsible forest policy based on science, not myths.

For too many years they have bought into the misguided "leave it alone" approach to managing our forests.

The results have been plain to see: overgrown forests that fall victim to catastrophic wildfires and spew huge amounts of pollutants into the air. These pollutants are counterproductive to reducing the carbon emissions and ultimately devastate both watersheds and wildlife.

California has seen the increase in large-scale wildfires as federally owned forestlands aren't managed. Policy has tied the hands of professional foresters who have been unable to implement a sound, sustainable forest policy that combines continual growth and harvesting of trees with the long-term protection of wildlife, water, plants and soil.

Ironically this policy persists for the West at a time when attitudes are changing back East. In a Harvard study, entitled "Wildlands and Woodlands: A Vision for the Forests of Massachusetts," professors conclude that actively managing and harvesting forests is critical to keeping forestland in Massachusetts - and preventing the loss of open space.

In the Massachusetts study, Dr. David Foster, the Director of Harvard University's Harvard Forest, says forest infrastructure needs protecting.

"We have to realize that we rely on our forests for clean air, clean water, recreation, wildlife habitat and wood," Foster said. "The nature of forest loss in the 21st century is different than anything we have seen in the past. Pavement is almost always permanent."

In California, two recent studies by Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo revealed that regulations carried out in the name of protecting the environment are actually leading to privately owned forestland being developed instead of conserved.

Excessive micromanagement of forest land has devastated many rural communities in California and the Northwest, shutting down family-owned businesses, putting thousands of workers into the unemployment line and damaging the very people who practice responsible forest management. When America doesn't harvest trees from its overcrowded forests, we find our wood elsewhere from other countries - ultimately leading to environmental devastation in countries with little or no proper forest management.

Not only do we export jobs, but we encourage huge environmental destruction in countries without the environmental protections that exist in the U.S.

These policies send the wrong message to the world: destroy your forests even though science shows the U.S. can meet much of its own wood needs with its own resources. Unfortunately, we prevent the proper management of our forests to "protect" them.

Senate leader Harry Reid from Nevada and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California come from two states that know the destruction and devastation that catastrophic wildfires can bring. The two states are working together in the Lake Tahoe area to reduce the imminent fire danger there - though so much more needs to be done.

Democrats are back in control - but should not go back to the days when they let environmental extremists write forest policy based on myth and fallacies. Instead, legislation needs to come after thoughtful consideration based on sound forest practices.

Active forest management can help our country meet its own wood products needs in a way that is good for global environments and helps fight global warming.

Larry Reandeau of Astoria, who has worked in wood-processing mills for 43 years, is the Western Regional Director of the Pulp and Paperworkers' Resource Council.