Aldo Leopold’s Name Misrepresented

a letter from his children to The Seattle Times
reprinted by permission of Dr. Luna Leopold

Aldo Leopold Our father, the American naturalist and forester Aldo Leopold, when he was alive, wrote at length about how fire has an important natural role in maintaining the forest ecosystems of the West. But his name has been seriously misused in an Aug. 19 opinion piece in The Seattle Times. Logging-industry sympathizer Bill Coates said that Aldo Leopold — whose ideas Coates lauded — would have supported the so-called “Forest Health Bill” now before Congress.

In fact, the legislation runs exactly counter to Aldo Leopold’s published ideas about stewardship of the national forests, for the bill would promote dubious “salvage” logging practices in the name of forest health.

President Clinton approved the Northwest Forest Plan in 1992 as an attempt at compromise between conservationist demands for protection of public forests and timber corporations, which desire to expand logging. Now, an innocent-sounding piece of legislation — the “Federal Lands Forest Health Protection and Restoration Act” — threatens to undermine even the weak protection measures in the president’s plan.

We cannot imagine how Aldo Leopold’s name could possibly be employed in defense of this bill!

Written by logging-industry lobbyists and rammed through committee without adequate input from scientists or the public, Sen. Larry Craig’s bill (S. 391) would permanently undermine important environmental laws and restrict the public’s ability to challenge destructive logging practices.

Sen. Craig, R-Idaho, one of the largest recipients of timber PAC money in Congress, narrowly focuses the “forest health” debate on the health of commercially valuable timber — at the expense of the entire forest ecosystem.

In a nutshell, Craig’s bill attempts to: (1) set aside huge tracts of our national forests — perhaps millions of acres — in logging priority zones that can remain in place forever; (2) severely limit public participation in, and scientific oversight of, logging practices in our national forests, and (3) allow the Forest Service to sell an unlimited number of broadly defined “salvage” sales — up to 200 log trucks worth of timber at a time — with no environmental review whatsoever.

Decades of unrestricted logging and fire control have created unnatural, unhealthy conditions and increased fire risks in a number of National Forests in the West. One recent scientific study, the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, prepared for Congress by more than 100 independent scientists, concluded that “Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate and fuel accumulation has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity.”

In addition, a letter to President Clinton signed by 111 scientists and researchers in June concluded that salvage logging “increases susceptibility to catastrophic fires and insect outbreaks.”

Congress should reject Sen. Craig’s poorly conceived bill that pretends to aid “forest health” but in fact serves the interests of short-term timber industry profiteering.

What is needed now is ecological restoration, not more salvage logging and attendant road-building. We need a different approach that looks at specific regions and problems including ecological use of fire, and one that advocates methods to restore the health of the entire ecosystem, not just trees with commercial value. This idea would fit well with Aldo Leopold’s vision and philosophy — maintaining our remaining national forests as the international treasures that they are.

Luna B. Leopold is an emeritus professor of geology at U.C. Berkeley; Nina Leopold Bradley is a restoration ecologist with the Leopold Foundation of Baraboo, Wisc.; Aldo Carl Leopold is an emeritus professor of plant sciences at Cornell University, and Estella B. Leopold is a professor of botany at the University of Washington.

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