Environmentalists and the U-S Forest Service often fight over the best way to balance between cutting timber for lumber and paper, and preserving wildlife habitat. Lately, the battle is over whether government just looks at each tract of land where it sells timber or whether it looks at the cumulative impacts of logging on National Forests. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
Environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service often fight over the best
way to balance between cutting timber for lumber and paper, and
preserving wildlife habitat. Lately, the battle is over whether
government just looks at each tract of land where it sells timber or
whether it looks at the cumulative impacts of logging on National
Forests. The GLRC’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:
When some people look at a stand of trees they see lumber for a house or
wood for paper.
“Let’s go to the yellow birch.”
But when Ricardo Jomarron spots a stand of yellow
birch trees, he sees a valuable home for the pine marten – a member of
the weasel family. The marten is endangered in some states.
“The great thing about yellow birch is that it has a propensity to become
hollow while staying alive. So you have this wonderful den for pine
marten and other species to rear their young that isn’t going to blow over
in a windstorm.”
Jomarron is standing in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in
northern Wisconsin that’s near the border with Michigan. Last year,
Jomarron’s group, the Habitat Education Center won a federal court case
that has blocked timber sales on about 20-thousand acres in the million
and a half acre Chequamegon- Nicolet.
A judge ruled the Forest Service had violated the National
Environmental Policy Act by not considering the cumulative impact of
logging on other forest species. Logging not in just one place, but many
can have a larger impact on some wildlife that the judge said the Forest
Service didn’t consider.
But it’s not just the act of cutting down the trees that worries the
environmentalists. It’s the loss of shade that some plants need to survive
and new logging roads crossing streams where erosion damages trout
The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center is representing the
Habitat Education Center. Attorney Howard Learner says the case is not
about banning logging in the national forests. He says it is about
restoring a system that he argues has gotten out of whack.
“In part because the Forest Service was looking at one timber sale and what the
impacts of that were, and then they’d look at another one and what the impacts of that were, and
they didn’t look at the overall impact – and what was the forest rather
than the trees.”
The Forest Service eventually decided not to appeal the judge’s rulings to
stop the disputed sales in this one forest. It’s taking another look at the
cumulative impact of the proposed deals, but the Forest Service says it
didn’t approve the timber sales without getting advice from state and
tribal experts on water and wildlife.
Chequemegon-Nicolet forest supervisor Anne Archie says her agency
has done a good job. She says if you really want to study the total effect
of forest management, look back a century when loggers cut everything
“70 to 100 years ago there was no national forest. It was shrub land and
burnt over grassland. Now the National Forest is there that provides a
habitat for the species. So cumulatively in 70 to 100 years, we’ve been
growing the habitat for the species that Habitat Education Center…we’ll
we’re all concerned for those species.”
But Habitat Education Center and other environmental groups say the
Forest Service still isn’t doing a thorough job of determining the impact
that logging might have. The environmentalists and conservation groups
say the agency’s follow-up study on the Chequemegon-Nicolet is like
Swiss cheese with many more holes than substance. Depending what
happens at the end of the current comment period, the groups could ask
the judge to keep the lid on the timber sales.
Logging companies that cut and mill the trees from the forest are not
happy about the legal battles.
James Flannery runs the Great Lakes Timber Company. He says if you
want to look at the cumulative impact to the forest, you should look at
the cumulative impact to the economy of the area.
“Part of the money generated from forest sales comes back to
communities. If we have no forest sales and there’s thousands of acres of
forests land that we harvest I’m more worried about the income of these
communities, which will be zero.”
But the environmental groups argue the broad expanse of the forests
need to be protected from multiple timber sales that cumulatively could
cause wider ecological damage. They say ignoring the health of the
forest ignores another important industry of the area: the tourism that
brings a lot of money to the north woods.
For the GLRC, I’m Chuck Quirmbach.