The Payette Forest Coalition, a collection of timber industry and self-described “environmental groups,” complained recently in the Idaho State Journal that a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the 85,000 acre Lost Creek-Boulder Creek logging and burning project was putting Idaho’s communities at serious risk of wildfire. The Coalition relies on a number of worn-out myths about so-called “forest health” but sidesteps important issues about the project that resulted in the Court’s ruling.
The project: Hunter, anglers, wildlife lose; timber industry wins
The Coalition’s plan called for logging a mammoth 40,000 acres – over 62 square miles! It would have “thinned” the forest so much that it would no longer provide the hiding cover for big game required by the Forest Plan — meaning hunters lose when they find their favorite elk hunting spot no longer has any elk because there’s no hiding cover security.
The new and rebuilt roads required for the logging would have sent even more sediment into area streams — meaning anglers would lose when they found their secret fishing hole has been filled with sediment by bulldozers building miles of new logging roads.
The Coalition claims the logging would have thinned the forest, not cut big trees. What they aren’t telling you is that most of the big trees in this part of the Payette National Forest have already been logged so all that’s left to log are the smaller trees that are left.
But the small-diameter logging and thinning would also have removed essential habitat for snowshoe hare and red squirrels. These are primary food sources for numerous forest predators including bobcats, mountain lions, lynx, pine martins, fisher, wolverine, coyotes, goshawks, great grey owls, and boreal owls that all lose.
The economics: Taxpayers lose; timber industry wins
The Forest Service estimated that taxpayers would have lost an unbelievable $12,429,619 on this project. Economics classes teach that what makes America great is we have a capitalist economy where the free market rules. Businesses that are run efficiently and sell something people want, make profits — businesses that don’t go out of business.
Yet even in a capitalist economy there are some things economists think the government should subsidize, such as public schools, police and fire departments. The Coalition would like us to believe that the timber industry should also be subsidized because logging our national forests magically prevents wildfires. Nothing can be further from the truth.
The Forest Service’s own fire scientists have found that logging doesn’t stop wildfires but having a non-flammable roof and clearing most trees and brush 100 feet from your home will help keep your home from burning down in a wildfire. All that logging deep in the back country does is waste taxpayer’s money by subsidizing the private timber industry, which should succeed or fail based on the free market.
The judges and their decision: Why the Coalition lost
The Ninth Circuit found that the Lost Creek Boulder Creek logging violated the Payette Forest Plan, which is a set of rules that the Payette National Forest wrote with the public’s input to ensure that the Forest operates on a multiple use, sustained yield basis. “Sustained yield,” however, doesn’t just mean “getting out the cut,” but also a sustained yield of clean water, fish, and wildlife.
The three judge panel ruled unanimously against the project. It’s all too common to accuse the Ninth Circuit of being radical liberals, but again, reality tells a different story. Two of the judges were appointed by Republican presidents and one was appointed by a Democrat. The senior judge on the panel was Milan D. Smith, Jr., brother of Gordon Smith, a Republican United States Senator from Oregon from 1996 to 2009. Judge Smith graduated from BYU and was appointed to the Ninth Circuit by President George W. Bush.
The next time an industry-sponsored group complains that a panel of bipartisan-appointed judges stopped its efforts to get over $12 million dollars from taxpayers to benefit the private, for-profit timber industry people should question who wins and who loses. And clearly, with the Lost Creek-Boulder Creek logging project it is the public that loses its clean water, wildlife, and fisheries while the timber industry gets subsidized with taxpayer funds to ravage an already over-cut national forest – the very National Forest that belongs to all 325 million Americans and generations yet to come.
Mike Garrity is the Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and was the Natural Resource advisor for former Utah Republican Congressman Merrill Cook .