Forest chief: Debate focuses on wrong issues

The Olympian


SAN FRANCISCO -- Logging and road-building get a lot of attention, but the real threats to the nation's forests are fire and invasive species, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth said Tuesday.
"The current debate about the administration and management of America's national forests ... I think it's about the wrong issues," he said.

The four main threats, according to Bosworth, are overgrown forests that need thinning or controlled burning to prevent catastrophic fires; invasive species that threaten native plants; habitat fragmentation from development near forest lands; and unmanaged recreation.

Four issues that he labeled "diversions" were logging, debates that hone in on the "poster children" of endangered species rather than habitat as a whole, livestock grazing on public land and road-building.

Bosworth chose Earth Day and the environmentalist stronghold of the San Francisco Bay area to make his pitch, speaking first at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and later at the University of California, Berkeley.

Environmentalists were cool to Bosworth's message, which expanded on remarks the Forest Service chief made earlier this year.

"This is the administration attempting to use Earth Day in a political way to draw attention away from their plans to increase logging and oil and gas development in our national forests, and I think it is shameless," said Dan Smuts of The Wilderness Society.

A few students protested outside Bosworth's Berkeley appearance.

Senior Kate Seely-Kirk was unimpressed with his views.

"He had his agenda, so he was just discrediting other people," she said.

In his speech, Bosworth referred to "the bogus debate over logging" and said there's a misperception that the Forest Service is eagerly chopping down trees to make money. He said the amount of timber cut in the United States has dropped from 12 billion board feet a year two decades ago to 2 billion board feet a year now. It takes about 10,000 board feet to build an average house.

Bosworth said the Forest Service cuts trees mainly for conservation purposes, such as improving wildlife habitat. Some forests are overgrown and must be thinned to prevent fires, he added.

"Americans are going to have to decide: We can remove some of the trees and lower the risk of catastrophic fire, or we can do nothing and we can watch them burn," he said.

Phil Aune of the California Forestry Association, an industry group, said Bosworth had it exactly right on the logging issue.

"I think it's absolutely on target on the concern that the greatest threat is catastrophic wildfire and those kind of issues," Aune said.

But Warren Alford of the Sierra Club said Bosworth simply wanted to sound green on Earth Day.

"Really it comes down to whether actions speak louder than words," he said, pointing to the Sierra Nevada plans as an example of an action he opposes.

Asked to respond to his critics, Bosworth said that as a 37-year veteran of the Forest Service, he's not playing partisan politics.

"What I am focusing on is what I think are the problems that are out there in the national forests and the problems I believe that the American people are going to be faced with for the next 20 years," he said.


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