| For Immediate Release: July 29, 2003
Prescott National Forest logs large old growth trees with forest health funds
Leaves small trees in areas near communities
When Governor Napolitano’s Forest Advisory and Oversight Committees meet in Flagstaff Wednesday, conservation groups will present a clear picture of what happens when forest health and thinning projects prioritize commercial interests rather than community protection and conservation science. As Congress debates so-called “healthy forest” bills focused on gutting environmental protections, the direct on the ground results of environmental exemptions coupled with insufficient funding for community protection projects are all too obvious on the Prescott National Forest, where large, old growth ponderosas are cut and stacked along a road that winds through a forest still thick with unthinned, small, fire prone trees.
According to the Forest Service these sales, located on a forest road near Indian Creek campground, are fuel reduction and beetle kill projects that went forward with a categorical exclusion, meaning there was no environmental review. The Forest Service also indicated that they sold the trees at the minimum rate, that they couldn’t get anyone to bid on trees smaller than 12”, and that there is no plan for the small tree removal.
“The old growth log decks on the Prescott are a clear reminder of why opening the forests to expedited logging will not promote forest health or reduce fire risks to communities,” said Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club. “Given free reign and no public review, the industry will continue to take the oldest, largest trees, leaving the small fuels that are the problem behind.”
Many politicians have argued for limiting public input on forest proposals – using the need to expedite projects as an excuse. In fact, the Bush “Healthy Forests Initiative” proposes sweeping exemptions, many of which are administratively enacted, to let the timber industry and Forest Service conduct projects without citizen appeals or legal constraints. These exemptions include expanded definitions of categorical exclusions. These are projects that do not have to go through the regular environmental review process. Legislation to further weaken environmental laws, exempt projects from appeal and interfere with the independent judiciary has already passed the House and is expected to be heard in the Senate in September.
With a large bark beetle infestation and limited funding, the Prescott National Forest opted for categorical exclusions and commercial timber sales to remove beetle killed trees. Although there are many smaller trees affected by the beetles, Prescott National Forest representatives say they sold the old growth trees because 12” and larger trees are pretty much the only sizes the timber industry will take.
“The logging of these large trees on the Prescott makes a strong case for increasing the funding for community protection projects as requested by Governor Napolitano and other western leaders,” according to Center for Biological Diversity spokesperson Brian Segee. “Without funding for these projects we will continue to see logging of the large trees without a community protection objective.”
Members of the Arizona Congressional delegation who support the Bush forest plan have largely disputed that such funding is a priority, insisting that doing away with environmental regulations and appeals is all the forests need.
"It is clear that a new approach to forest management is necessary to achieve the goals of protecting forested communities from fire and restoring forest health," said Roxane George, outreach director for the Southwest Forest Alliance. "Forest Service data shows that 90% of the trees out there are 12" in diameter and smaller and 95% of the old growth has already been logged, yet the Forest Service continues to ignore their own data and contract for logging of the large old growth trees. The use of this categorical exclusion on the Prescott has only resulted in a loss of valuable wildlife habitat. The small dead and dying trees that are the real fire hazard are still out there, even though Congress appropriated additional funds for just this situation."
There is widespread agreement that drought, fire suppression and over a century of large tree logging and overgrazing have radically changed Southwest forest ecosystems. The Prescott, like forests throughout the west, has little fire resistant old growth and an excess of same age small diameter trees. George said that the Southwest Forest Alliance and member groups support efforts to correct the problem through prescribed burns and small tree thinning but the forest legislation headed to the Senate in September is counterproductive.
Note: The Prescott National Forest claims that they are only cutting “dead and dying” old growth trees. However, they are using loose criteria in determining the likelihood that a tree will die. An old growth ponderosa pine can provide rare ecosystem values and take years to die. Large dead and dying ponderosas or “snags” provide essential wildlife habitat that many biologists argue is at least as important as the habitat provided by live trees.