Timber sales fall short of paying for forest road maintenance

I would like to respond to Ron Baker’s letter to the editor, regarding Forest Service roads (“Timber sales in national forest could fund road maintenance,” The Herald, Aug. 19). I share his dismay at the condition of the road that allows access to places that are very special to me personally. Unfortunately the problem of deferred road maintenance is not as simply solved as he suggests.

There are reams of data demonstrating the “crisis” of the northern spotted owl and other old-growth dependent species, including marbled murrelets. Briefly, spotted owl populations have declined by up to 77 percent in Washington state over the past 20 years. Statewide, marbled murrelet populations have declined by 44 percent over the past 15 years. But these birds are only indicators of a much wider problem, the loss of an ecosystem that sustains life in many forms, including humans. Intact forests provide us with clean water and air, mitigate climate change, feed us with healthy fish populations and more.

The decline of these bird populations has occurred even with the protections of the Northwest Forest Plan, which has limited — but not eliminated — logging of old-growth trees on our National Forests. The plan has also designated Late Successional Reserves to become old-growth forests in the future. The younger trees that Mr. Baker saw along the Schweitzer Creek Road are growing in such a reserve.

Trees are still being cut on National Forest lands, albeit usually thinned rather than clear-cut. The Schweitzer Creek Road is actually slated for repair if a sale currently in the planning stages, involving the entire South Fork Stillaguamish watershed, goes forward. Unfortunately, it is rare that timber sale receipts actually cover the cost of these repairs. Timber buyers are given “road credits,” which actually amount to a taxpayer subsidy, to bring the roads up to a standard that will allow log trucks to use them.

The problem is in the way the Forest Service is funded. While road credits are allowed, direct funding of repair and maintenance is millions of dollars less than needed.

Kathy Johnson

Pilchuck Audubon Society


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