"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Clear Cut Logging

A fiscal year 1995 budget cutting measure (the 1995 Rescissions Act) contained a section mandating "salvage" logging on taxpayer owned public forests. This unprecedented provision, dubbed the "clear cut rider," requires cutting of millions of acres of publicly owned trees that have in any way been damaged by fire, pests, or the weather. Under the law, cutting must occur at accelerated rates with no regard to environmental impact or taxpayer costs required to facilitate the sale.

The rider also requires the immediate initiation of logging on all old growth timber sales offered in Oregon and Washington since 1989 where cutting had been canceled or suspended on environmental grounds by federal courts or agencies. All environmental laws that normally control the environmental damage caused by this logging are suspended, and trees up to 1,000 years old have been felled as a result.

Billions of board feet of timber must be logged in this way, and neither federal agencies nor private citizens may mount a challenge to any agency or in any court of law that environmental laws are being violated. As a result, ancient forests are being destroyed at a frenzied pace and sold at bargain basement prices. Taxpayers lose money and irreplaceable wildlands in the deal.

In March of 1995, Rep. Sidney Yates offered an amendment to strike the clear-cut rider language and require that salvage logging be subject to relevant environmental statutes. The Yates amendment was defeated 150-275. In March 1996, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) offered an amendment that would have repealed the clear cut rider. It was defeated 52-42.

How it Hurts America

  • Nearly 4.5 billion board feet of "salvage" timber nationwide may be cut from taxpayer-owned national forests, including one million or more board feet in 32 separate states, with all environmental laws suspended. An additional half billion board feet of healthy, old growth timber may be cut from publicly-owned forests in Oregon and Washington.
  • To carry away all of the trees that may be cut under the clear cut rider would require more than one million logging trucks, each 65 feet long. Placed end to end, these logging trucks would stretch for more than 12,000 miles--a four-lane, bumper to bumper traffic jam stretching all the way across the country, filled with trees from America's dwindling national forests.
  • Throughout the country, "salvage" timber sales that will be offered under the clearcut rider would not only threaten prized forests, but would also cost taxpayers money. The Forest Service is offering many sales that will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each.
  • Particularly egregious salvage sales include: the Dillon Creek sale in California's Klamath National Forest that would threaten a proposed wild and scenic river, along with the salmon and steelhead runs that it supports; a sale in the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, comprising 15,000 acres, which threatens one of the last remaining remnants of longleaf pine forest in the southeast, along with many species of imperiled wildlife that rely on longleaf pine habitat for their survival; a sale in Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest that threatens a breeding colony of the endangered Indiana bat; the Thunderbolt Wildlife Recovery salvage sales in Idaho, which threaten water quality and fish populations and were opposed by the Forest Service's own biologists as well as other federal and state agencies; and the Copper Butte "salvage" sale in the Colville National Forest in Washington, which contains a significant percentage of healthy old growth trees and will be sold at a loss of at least $125,000 to taxpayers.