Bryan Bird of the self-proclaimed "Forest Guardians" makes several phony claims in his flawed attempt elsewhere on this page to challenge our June 12 editorial that suggested the timber industry should be allowed back into our Western forests.
The editorial, "Reversing a blunder: Reopening forests to industry the right way to aid rural communities," pointed out that taxpayers have sent $2 billion to rural counties in the West to help compensate for the devastating loss of jobs and tax revenues caused by overzealous enforcement of environmental regulations.
The Tribune long has opposed such extremism and has supported proposals to involve timber companies in thinning operations that are now desperately needed to return our overgrown and diseased forests to health.
Bird and the "Forest Guardians" will have none of that. He declares that the real issue is whether taxpayers should subsidize rural counties or the timber industry.
Taxpayers should subsidize neither. The timber industry doesn’t need to be subsidized if it is not overregulated to the point of unprofitability. Timber companies operating on Arizona’s Indian reservations — under strict harvesting guidelines — not only turn a healthy profit but provide income to the tribes and keep the forests from becoming overgrown tinder boxes.
Bird claims that federal subsidies to logging companies in 1998 were $407 million, but provides no current figures. Was that true corporate pork, or does it include construction and maintenance of roads and other forest infrastructure that the general public requires in order to fully enjoy its natural treasures? Bird doesn’t say.
He also ignores the staggering costs to the Treasury of thinning the West’s forests without the involvement of the timber industry. The U.S. Forest Service’s Southwestern Regional Forester Harv Forsgren warned in a commentary on these pages last month that services and facilities the public has long enjoyed will have to be curtailed in future years in order to help pay for the thinning operations. To minimize those cutbacks, Forsgren strongly supports involving forest industries in carefully monitored thinning operations.
Bird further claims that allowing the forest industries back into the rural West would trigger irresistible political pressures for more and more logging in order to fund education and other essential services. We trust Bird and his "Guardians," who have impressively demonstrated their political clout over the past decade, would not allow that to happen. More important, though, is the point Bird himself makes — that rural economies are becoming far more diversified.
Bird and his ilk are at the very core of the environmental and economic problems that plague the West’s rural counties. We need no more of his brand of extremism, which has posed only phony arguments to scare the public and policymakers into chasing the timber industry from our forests.
We desperately need a balanced approach that is based on reason and sound science. That is how we can best guard the environmental health of our forests and the economic health of our rural communities.