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UNABLE TO AFFORD THE $2,000 A PLATE DINNER at the Chiles Center last week in Portland, Oregon, I missed my golden opportunity to thank President Bush for his comments about the state of forest health in Oregon and around the nation. The following day, after flying over the Deschutes National Forest, President Bush declared it a "holocaust." And I agree 100 percent with our nation's ecologically minded leader.
Why wouldn't President Bush want to alert the citizenry of the nation to the utter devastation on our public lands? The Deschutes National Forest is crisscrossed with mile after mile of logging roads and pitted with clear-cuts that have left little more than 3 to 5 percent of the original majestic Ponderosa pine woods. The National Forest system of some 191 million acres contains over 400,000 miles of roads that channel drying winds into once intact forests. Compound that with the blistering sun baking denuded lands and literally millions of cut branches, needles and logging waste, and you have a fire hazard beyond imagination.
I was hoping to walk with President Bush into a clearcut by my own home. Living by the Siuslaw National Forest, in Oregon, I was anxious to see the reaction of the president as he walked a moonscape that was once a living and breathing system. The ground crunches in pain as you walk the brittle landscape. Hardy weeds replace the once native flora and stumps create an eerie backdrop to the mounds of limbs and unmarketable splintered logs that litter the ground.
Nothing in nature mimics a clear-cuteven forest fires leave standing trees and shade. Clear-cutting is an aberration in nature, where all the intricacies of forest ecosystems are liquidated. The timber industry's recipe for "healing" a clear-cut is a prescription for disaster.
Replanting trees in sequenced rows that compete for sunlight leads to thousands of dead branches, little growth on the forest floor and actually becomes a catalyst for high temperature fire disasters. What the doctor should order in this situation is kicking timber multinationals off public lands.
In reality, President Bush was here in my state to "play doctor" and "aid" the ailing forests by intentionally razing natural systems and replace them with fire prone monocultures. He lamented the fires that have burned in Oregon, using the powerful imagery of fire to mislead his employeesthe citizens of America. His "stewardship forestry" is music to timber multinationals. For Bush's song includes the lyrics: big timber, you are exempt from environmental law; have a grand time liquidating giant, fireproof trees.
His choir sings in lockstep. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, our protector of public lands, states, "Dense, overgrown forests and range lands have grown like cancer." The unmentioned malignancy here is her and her bosses' intentional lies and cronyism towards the nation's avid clear-cutters. They could afford a seat next to the president in Portland; that $2000 a plate was simply "chump change" for those who seek favors for votes.
The spectacle of Bush's ride over lands struck by forest fires is illuminated when one examines only the facts. And facts do not cease to exist simply because they are ignored. Burning trees make good television moments but smoke out hard data. In 2002, similar fires burned in the Umpqua National Forest. Close to 90,000 acres burned with the press using terms like "devastated trees and darkened stumps." Yet, more than 80% of the forest was lightly burned, actually Mother Nature's tool to reduce undergrowth. And where did the most intense fire burn? In dense tree plantations that replaced once native trees. When the smoke clears it is easy to see that President Bush's forest plan is a hoax disguised to open native forests to the timber industry and damn the real data.
The cold hard facts are sobering:
- Over 50% of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska has been clear-cut since 1950.
- Of the original 243,000 km of long leaf pine in the southeastern US, less than 16,000 km remain.
- By the early 20th century, one-third of the U.S. forests disappeared and by the 1990's the native forests standing in the lower 48 hovered around 4% of their original acreage.
- The national forests of the Pacific Northwest have been slashed into jigsaw puzzle status. The Native Forest Council has aerial photos available that look like war has been waged on our public lands.
I am sending a letter and e-mails to President Bush, asking if he would meet me in the once widespread cottonwood or water-oak blackgum forests of Texas to discuss proper stewardship of forests. Nearly 60% of these forests have been leveled in his own home state. I would bring him a copy of "Endangered Forests, Endangered Freedoms," a 2003 report from Greenpeace that gives shocking facts on the state of national forests in the United States. I would ask if he would give the press a statement with acres of clear-cuts in the background.
Common citizens like me cannot afford luxurious and extravagant settings where access has too high a price to pay. President Bush's newest undeclared war is on our own turf: our forests. Sadly, once-proud forest defenders are now toying with the notion of "salvage logging," as if forest fires are the enemy.
Does President Bush think he can hide the truth in a growing sea of clear-cuts or homogeneously sterile tree farms? We should end commercial logging on public lands, use fire as the natural asset it is to forests, thin forests near populated areas using federal funds and let big timber multinationals provide our wood needs from their fiber farms.
Come walk our national forests with common folks like me, Mr. President, and see the real holocaust in the nation's woods. I will even buy you dinner.
John F. Borowski is a marine and environmental science teacher who lives in Philomath, Oregon and works with the Native Forest Council. His articles have appeared in PR Watch, the New York Times, UTNE Reader, Forest Voice, Alternatives Magazine, Z Magazine, Liberal Slant and Commondreams.
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