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Under fire

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

forest_fire.jpgEvery year, billions of gallons of fire retardants are dropped on forests across the nation. Those chemicals take their toxic toll, but then, so do forest fires. In fact, the National Interagency Fire Center has already contained 78 large fires this year.

Logging has a huge effect on forest fires. A logging company goes in for the valuable trunks of the largest, most fire-resistant trees, leaving behind young growth and dead, drying branches and treetops that are, of course, especially susceptible to fire. Since the mission of the Forest Service is, in a nutshell, "to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run," and since large-scale forest fires do no good for pretty much anybody, you'd think the Forest Service would be really careful about leasing out national forest land for logging.

You'd think, but you'd be wrong. Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, the former timber industry lobbyist who now runs the Forest Service, thinks logging is a great use of public lands. He proudly reports to the Associated Press that "We are now treating four times as many acres as we did when this administration came into office." In case you missed it, "treating acres" is a polite little euphemism for cutting down trees.

Rey's methods of handling fire prevention, if you can call it that, have come under fire by critics who point out that we could reduce the amount of toxic fire retardants dumped from planes each year by quite a bit if he'd just be a little more responsible with the land. At a hearing today, a judge will decide whether Rey has been skirting NEPA, a law that would in essence require him to tell the truth about the effects of logging on forests. Like that it causes fires. That Rey uses billions of gallons of poison to put out.

Let's not be naive about this. We all use products made from wood, and we're going to keep using them. We ought to be using them at a much more sustainable rate, but regardless, they have to come from somewhere. And there are sustainable ways to harvest lumber -- just ask the Forest Stewardship Council. But whatever you do, don't ask Mark Rey.

Photo by Rob Wallace.