Forest Chief calls for preserving all old growth
January 8, 2001, 08:45 PM
GRANTS PASS, Ore. The U.S. Forest Service chief said Monday he was declaring all old growth trees in national forests off limits to logging, a policy that goes well beyond President Clinton's order protecting a third of national forests from timber operations.

Mike Dombeck, the service chief, said he will direct supervisors on every national forest in the country to map and protect the old growth on national forests remaining after a century of logging, and to develop a vision of how much old growth will be created for the future.

The policy would go beyond the plan signed last Friday by President Clinton, which declared 58.5 million acres of national forests where no roads now exist off-limits to new roads and most logging.

President-elect Bush has not said whether he would try to roll back the new Clinton forest restrictions; but during his campaign, he suggested the proposal - announced more than a year ago - paid too little attention to concerns from Western states and the impact on logging and other industries.

Dombeck, under federal rules, has the right to keep his job 120 days after the change in administrations and his new plan would remain in effect at least that long.

Old growth now in areas known as matrix lands, where logging is allowed, would also be protected under the Dombeck initiative.

"In the not-so-distant past, old trees were viewed as overmature or decadent and targeted for cutting because of their high economic values," Dombeck said, in prepared remarks to a conference at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

"Today, national forests contain our last remaining sizable blocks of old growth forest - a remnant of America's original landscape. In the future, we will celebrate the fact that national forests serve as a reservoir for our last remaining old-growth forests and their associated ecological and social values."

In view of a record season of forest fires last summer, future logging will be in areas already developed, Dombeck said. It will be designed to reduce the risk of wildfire, especially around cities and towns, and improve the health of the forest rather than turn out logs.

Before the turn of the century, President Teddy Roosevelt created the national forests as a reserve after timber barons cleared the woodlands of the Northeast and Great Lakes. That policy changed after World War II, when the nation turned to the national forests for lumber to build homes for returning veterans.

After record logging in the 1980s left a small fraction of the old growth that was standing when pioneers moved into the West, the Forest Service sharply cut back harvest in the 1990s, partly under court orders to protect threatened wildlife such as the Northern spotted owl and salmon.

Previous Forest Service chiefs have announced policies declaring logging would be based on what's best for the ecosystem, but environmentalists continued to find individual timber sales that slated big trees for harvest and violated guidelines for protecting fish and wildlife habitat.

With a 40 percent increase in the Forest Service budget and a backlog of work to improve forest health and reduce fire risk, the national forests are likely to provide more timber and jobs than they do today, said Dombeck chief aide Chris Wood from Washington, D.C.