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Too Many Trees Are Falling

In 1992 almost half of all American hardwood lumber production was used to make pallets for shipping. And according to the industry, more than half of these pallets are used just once and then discarded, ending up in landfills. Subsidized wood products promote this type of waste.
The only trouble with the movement for the preservation of our forests,'' Theodore Roosevelt noted in 1908, ''is that it has not gone nearly far enough.'' That is still the problem today.

In the waning hours of the just-concluded session, Congress passed a bill intended to set up a pilot ''fuel break'' project in certain national forests in California. But is the bill landmark legislation because it places modest limits on logging, or will its allowance of cutting on more than 40,000 acres only continue the 300-year hemorrhaging of one of our most precious resources?
Like the bison herds that sustained the Plains Indians, the sea of trees that covered the eastern half and far west of America seemed to early settlers to be an inexhaustible resource.

In 1891, with the effect of two centuries of profligate tree cutting becoming apparent, Congress established the national forest system. But a short six years later it created the Federal timber sales program, and logging in our new national forests began.
Today, with 95 percent of the country's original forests already logged, most of the remaining 5 percent are subject to being cut, with logs hauled from public land on access roads constructed at public expense.

Less than 4 percent of the country's wood products come from public lands, yet Federal subsidies for this logging are inexcusably large; last year alone, the subsidy was $791 million. And the Government not only subsidizes roads for logging companies, it also pays communities to support schools and other services for the families of loggers.

But the program's real cost extends beyond this corporate welfare. Continued logging in national forests worsens soil erosion, lake and stream sedimentation, and air and water quality. Some jobs may be created, but whether their number exceeds those in the fishing, recreation and tourism industries that are jeopardized when machines intrude on nature's habitat is open to question.

Indeed, according to the Forest Service, logging jobs represent less than 3 percent of all jobs in our national forests.
If we are to be good stewards of public lands, we must protect what remains of our national forests. One way to do this is to create programs to insure maximum use of recyclable materials.

Ending the logging subsidy makes good environmental and economic sense and should be a high priority for a free-market economy. That is why Representative Cynthia A. McKinney, a Georgia Democrat, and I have introduced legislation to end logging on public lands.
Our bill would provide for the retraining of displaced timber workers, economic development assistance to affected lumbering communities, and research into recycling and ecological restoration.

At first blush, some might think ending logging on Federal land is environmental extremism, but in fact, it is common sense.
Insuring the environmental future requires a global effort, and we should do our part. The United States is quick to scold third world countries that destroy tropical forests, decrying the impact on global warming and biodiversity.
If we are going to exhort other countries to preserve their forests, we ought to act to save our own. Forest preservation is neither a regional nor a partisan issue. The national forests belong to all Americans, and their proper management is everybody's business.
James A. Leach, a Republican, is a United States Representative from Iowa.