WASHINGTON Opponents of a bill that would speed up logging on federal land devastated by forest fire said Thursday the measure discounts scientific research into the impact of such salvage logging.
U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, scientists from the universities of Washington and Montana, and the World Wildlife Fund also accused the Bush administration of trying to quash scientific findings at odds with its ideology.
Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, and the scientists spoke at a news conference Thursday. A congressional forestry panel is scheduled to hold a hearing today on a study used by environmentalists and conservationists in their attempt to derail the salvage-logging bill.
In addition to speeding up the process to clear trees damaged by fire, ice or wind storms, the bill also calls for more independent research into the matter. The proposal is supported by some scientists, including the dean of Oregon State University’s forestry program.
“I grow weary of those who say this bill neglects all science,” said Rep. Brain Baird, D-Vancouver, who co-sponsored the measure with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
“We’ve heard testimony from a number of scientists who believe this is a very good bill and will not only make it possible to remove perfectly good wood, but engage in activities that will protect ecosystems,” Baird said.
OSU researchers studied the area in southwest Oregon affected by the 2002 Biscuit fire and concluded logging in burned forests impedes their recovery by killing seedlings that grow back naturally, and may leave behind more fuel for future fires.
The findings were published in the January issue of the journal Science.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management suspended funding to the researchers, but restored it earlier this month one day after Inslee asked the Interior Department’s inspector general to investigate why the money was pulled.
“Without vigorous debate in the scientific community if it is suppressed, if it is censored, if it is leaned on in the political process it makes it impossible to make good public policy,” Inslee said.
He added that the Bush administration likes to “rap the knuckles” of scientists whose findings disagree with the president’s policies.
The White House had no immediate comment.
Inslee said the salvage-logging bill “cuts the heart out” of the environmental review process, which looks at the impact of each individual logging project.
Baird, however, said the bill is an attempt to find “a responsible way of using the best science to minimize any adverse environmental impact, maximize the economic gains and facilitate the long-term recovery of our forests.”
The challenge of salvage logging, he said, is harvesting the wood before it deteriorates too much.
“If you harvest quickly, your wood is more valuable and your environmental impact is lessened,” Bairdsaid.