- State Governors and the United States Forest Service Open Over 45 Million Acres of National Forests to Logging
- HW Council member Davis Mounger (TN) gives a slideshow presentation on Forest Watch
Forest Watch is Heartwood’s oldest program and remains at the core of Heartwood’s work. Forest Watch is the act of keeping watch on public lands, most notably National Forest land, and to take action when forest management is having a negative impact on the health of the forest. On National Forest land, this has often meant waging legal battles against the Forest Service itself to hold the agency accountable to their own laws. When Heartwood was founded in 1991, it was common practice for National Forests to have a mandate for commercial logging. While this is still a concern today, Heartwood has played a fundamental role in educating the public about abuses to our public lands and was a leading organization (if not the first) to publicly declare “no commercial logging on public lands.” Heartwood has remained true to this vision and continues to fight for the protection of our public lands, which today includes monitoring forests for not only timber sales, but for prescribed burns, herbicide applications, “restoration” efforts, oil & gas drilling, biomass incineration, and mountain top removal coal mining.
Logging in national forests produces about 75% less yield than it did in its peak 20 years ago. This is at least partly due to active forest watch programs, increased public awareness and successful litigation by Heartwood, Heartwood Member groups and colleagues nation wide. While national forests continue to be sources of pulp and saw timber, their role is much diminished. Because the economic costs of logging exceed revenues, logging must be taxpayer-subsidized. Logging programs have been reinvented and replaced with projects that are not promoted for the express purpose of providing boardfeet of timber. Instead the agency now buries logging as part of large, multi-year projects with many facets that may include miles of roadbuilding, the creation and maintenance of early successional habitat for wildlife and oak regeneration, salvage sales after natural disturbances, and forest stand thinnings all of which are merely smaller-scale clearcuts. Prescribed burning and herbicide applications are regularly significant components of these projects.
Prescribed burns on public lands have gained much popularity in recent years. Whereas fire suppression used to be the norm on National Forest land (think Smokey the Bear), that norm seems now to have been replaced with ambitious goals of burning large tracts of forest. While fire is not completely without a place in the eastern hardwood forests, having been used by Indigenous Americans as a management tool in a variety of ways, the fires would have been small and unlikely to exceed 8 acres. A typical Prescribed Burn on eastern public land currently ranges from 200-500 acres, with a recent project in Kentucky planned for thousands of acres. These large burn projects are based on the needs of Western forests and the fact that there was a policy shift in 2001 which led to an increase by 250% in the Forest Service’s budget specifically for fire management. The money now acts as an incentive for the Forest Service to find reasons to burn in the eastern United States, thereby increasing their revenue. It should be obvious that burning forests is not carbon neutral. Burning trees adds to carbon emissions and takes away the very thing (trees) that remove carbon dioxide from the environment. The Forest Service has started to study the impact of climate change on our forests, an admittance that climate change does exist, but it neglects to see how its own policies and actions could be influencing that change.
Herbicides are currently being applied to hundreds of thousands of acres annually across our National Forests. Some applications are intended to control invasive species. Other applications are intended to promote specific forestry goals. Often times, herbicides are used in forestry on public lands in order to benefit a particular species (usually oak or pine) by killing other competing species (such as hickory, gum, maple, dogwood, redbud, beech, cedar, etc.).
Another type of herbicide application is permitted for use on right of ways by electric or pipeline companies. These applications are often a mix of potent herbicides. No scientific analysis of these mixtures exists. Neither EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) nor the Forest Service have conducted any comprehensive testing of exposure risk or effects from mixed herbicides.
The Forest Service incorrectly proposes that low levels of pesticide (including herbicides) and or, pesticide residue exposures are not harmful to human health or to wildlife. This misconception is based on a limited number of dated studies that do not consider the long-term endocrine disrupting actions of pesticides and adjuvants.
There are numerous studies and scientific papers detailing direct and indirect effects on amphibians, including deformities that occur from exposure to pesticides and herbicides. Some effects may be genetically transferred up to 4 generations past exposure. The outmoded testing that the Forest Service relies on completely misses low-dose, endocrine system effects of these chemical cocktails.
Amphibians are biologically suited to be the aquatic equivalent of a canary in a coal mine. The abnormalities seen in frogs caused by exposure to herbicides are evident in human populations as well. However, no one can be certain the cause; our own human blood, even as newborns, holds between 100 and 300 detectable types of man made chemical substances.
Heartwood and its affiliate groups throughout the Central hardwood region continue to challenge the unnecessary application of herbicides on public lands.
There are actions that are potentially harmful to water, air, and soil quality that are routinely carried out on public lands in the name of “restoration.” Timber Stand Improvement is a term used by the Forest Service that often results in an area of forest being heavily logged. Another type of “restoration” project that is controversial is that of “invasive species control.” While the unwanted presence of invasive species is often the result of man’s activities, it is questionable whether spraying herbicides, cutting down trees, and burning forest land will result in a “restored” ecosystem, or more ironically, a more “natural” area.