Loggers and environmentalists are in a continual fight over the use of national forests. One of their battlegrounds is the long-range planning process. Every ten to fifteen years, the U.S. Forest Service designs a new plan for each national forest. Right now, several forests in the Northwoods are getting new plans. The Forest Service says it’s paying more attention to biodiversity, and wants to encourage more old growth forests. Critics on the environmental side say the new plans are just business as usual. Loggers say they still can’t cut enough trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:
Loggers and environmentalists are in a continual fight over the use of
national forests. One of their battlegrounds is the long-range
planning process. Every ten to fifteen years, the U.S. Forest Service
designs a new plan for each national forest. Right now, several
forests in the Northwoods are getting new plans. The Forest Service
says it’s paying more attention to biodiversity, and wants to encourage
more old growth forests. Critics on the environmental side say the
new plans are just business as usual. Loggers say they still
can’t cut enough trees. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie
(sound of car door closing, footsteps in woods)
Jerry Birchem is a logger. He’s visiting one of his harvest sites on
land owned by St. Louis County, in northeastern Minnesota. The highest
quality wood will be turned into wooden dowels… other logs will go to a
lumber mill… the poorest quality will be turned into paper.
Birchem tries to get the highest possible value from each tree. He says in the last ten
years, the price of trees has tripled.
“We have to pay more for timber and the mills want to pay less, and we’re caught in the
middle of trying to survive in this business climate.”
Birchem likes buying timber from the county, like at this logging site. He hardly ever
cuts trees from the national forest anymore. He’d like to, but the Forest Service doesn’t
make much of its land available for logging. The agency says it doesn’t have enough staff
to do the environmental studies required before trees can be cut on federal land.
Jerry Birchem says loggers need the Forest Service to change that.
“You know there needs to be processes set in place so you know, it doesn’t take
so long to set up these timber sales. I mean, they’ve got to go through so
many analyses and so many appeals processes.”
Birchem says it should be harder for environmental groups to get in the way of timber
sales. But not everybody agrees with Birchem.
Clyde Hanson lives in Grand Marais, on the edge of Lake Superior. He’s an active
member of the Sierra Club.
He says it’s true loggers are taking less timber off federal lands in recent
years. But he says the Forest Service still isn’t protecting the truly special
places that deserve to be saved.
He says a place like Hog Creek should be designated a wilderness area, where no trees
can be cut.
(sound of creek, birds)
“Very unique mixture, we must be right at the transition between two types of forest.”
Red pine thrive here, along with jackpine and tamarack. It’s rough and swampy country,
far from roads. So far, loggers have left these trees alone.
But with the value of trees skyrocketing, Hanson says the place will be logged eventually.
Forest Service planners made note of the fact that the Hog Creek area is relatively
untouched by humans. They could have protected it, but they decided not to.
“And we think that’s a mistake, because this is our last chance to protect wilderness and
provide more wilderness for future generations. If we don’t do it now, eventually there’ll
be enough roads or enough logging going on in these places that by the next forest plan
it’ll be too late.”
But the Forest Service says it is moving to create more diversity in the
woods. It wants a forest more like what nature would produce if left
to her own devices.
The agency says it will reduce the amount of aspen in the forest. Aspen has been
encouraged, because it grows fast. When it’s cut, it grows back quickly, so loggers and
paper companies can make more money.
The trouble is, an aspen forest only offers habitat for some kinds of animals,
such as deer and grouse. Other animals, especially songbirds, need older trees to
So the Forest Service wants to create more variety in the woods, with more old trees than
there are now. But how to get the forest from here to there, is the problem.
Duane Lula is one of the Forest Service planners. He says fires and windstorms are nature’s way of producing
diverse forests. They sweep the woods periodically, killing big stands of older trees, and
preparing the soil for pines and other conifers. Jackpines, for instance, used to be more
common in the northwoods. Lula says the only practical way for man to mimic nature is
by cutting trees down.
“We can’t have those fires anymore just because people live here, there are private
homes here. There’s no way that we could replicate those fires. Timber management is one way of regenerating those jackpine stands in
lieu of having major fires.”
But Lula says the main purpose of timber cutting in the new plan is to move the forest
toward the diversity the agency wants, not to produce wood. And he says that shows the
Forest Service is looking at the woods in a new way.
“The previous plan tended to be very focused on how many acres you were going to
clearcut, how much timber you were going to produce, how much wildlife habitat you
were going to produce, and this one is trying to say, if we have this kind of desired
condition on the ground that we’re shooting for, then these other things will come from
As it does in the planning process in other national forests around the Great Lakes, the
Forest Service will adjust the plan after hearing from the public. Loggers,
environmentalists, and everyone else will have a chance to have their say. A final version
will be submitted to the Regional Forester in Milwaukee early next year. It could then
face a challenge in court.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.