Clinton, Like Robin Hood's Nemesis, Seizes The Forest
By Barring Americans From Their Forests, King Clinton Makes TheSheriff Of Nottingham Look Generous
October 29, 1999
by Dennis T. Avery
THE BridgeNews FORUM: Viewpoints on farming, farm policy and related agricultural issues.
October 22, 1999
CHURCHVILLE, Va.-In 13th century England, the forests belonged to the king. According to legend, Robin Hood and his band of merry men ate the king's deer-after roasting them over campfires courtesy of the king's firewood.
In the time the Robin Hood legend is set, common folk were, in fact, not allowed to walk in the king's forest, eat his rabbits or even get firewood to heat their homes or cook their food.
In a like vein President Clinton recently rode into the mountains of western Virginia, amid loud fanfare, to announce a ban on roads in 40 million acres of national forests.
His plan will turn a huge chunk of the country's timberlands, about equal in size to Oklahoma, into tracts of royal forest. In kingly style, Clinton did it by presidential proclamation rather than by act of Congress.
The final rules have not been written by the Forest Service, but it looks as though common folk will be effectively barred from using this national forest land for anything. Trees cannot be cut, because they cannot be hauled to a sawmill. Hunters and fishermen cannot get their gear into the area.
Only the hardiest backpackers will be able to make their way into these remote "saved" areas of the new Sherwood Forest.
A Washington Post editorial called this collection of roadless forests "a hugely depleted resource that ought to be conserved." But how did the roadless forests get depleted? How did anyone get in to deplete them?
Unused forests are exactly what Bill Clinton's environmental courtiers want. They've convinced King Bill that putting the forests off-limits to everything will somehow protect their pristine natural beauty.
Clinton's courtiers hate the idea of trees' being cut. They hate it almost as much when tourists, hunters and other tacky representatives of the general public disturb the "serenity" of the bears, raccoons, warblers and frogs in the forests.
Of course, putting the land off-limits will also mean that forest rangers will be largely unable to do the prescription burning needed to prevent all-consuming, dangerous forest fires. This is the same management strategy that helped destroy so much of Yellowstone National Park in the fire of 1988.
Clinton's "Sherwood Forest" style of tree management pretty much guarantees that the roadless forests that do survive the fire peril will become "old growth."
That will spell bad news for wildlife. Old-growth forests are dark, dank and slow-growing. They are clogged with decaying deadfalls that harbor buildups of pests and diseases. They don't even offer much food for birds or animals.
Even the spotted owl, which nests in old-growth forests, likes to hunt for wood rats in new-growth forests, which is why so few spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest have been found in old-growth forests.
Worse, the forests Bill Clinton is putting off-limits to logging are some of the fastest-growing and more sustainable logging sites in the world. Compare them with Siberia, where it can take 200 years for a tree to reach marketable size.
Since Clinton's edict won't change the world's demand for wood, the biggest environmental impact of a royal forest will be to encourage more logging in, for example, the tropical forests of Indonesia. In fact, ever since the administration's spotted owl plan put most of America's Pacific Northwest off-limits to logging, this is already happening.
My farm backs up to a part of the George Washington National Forest where timber harvest is still permitted. The oaks, maples and pines are beautiful and vigorous. The timber cutting encourages rapid regrowth.
The forest supports black bears, deer, wild turkeys, lynx, foxes, raccoons and the occasional timber rattlesnake. The logging "roads" are really more like paths, ideal for hiking, horseback riding and hunting.
Many in our community make their living by turning the renewable timber resource into railroad ties, fence boards and other useful things that will otherwise be manufactured from metal, plastic or concrete.
Actually, comparing Clinton's forest plan with Sherwood Forest does a disservice to King John.
The king had a large royal retinue. The sheriff of Nottingham and all the dukes and earls shared in the benefits of the king's "wise use" management of the royal forests.
It wasn't fair to the rest of his subjects, but at least the resources weren't wasted. Clinton wants to lock us all out, to the benefit of no one.
Maybe there's another solution. Perhaps we can get some large tracts of national forest set aside as "high-yield national timberlands." After all, the world will need about 10 times as much forest harvest in 2050 as it does today for housing, furniture, newspapers and computer printouts.
We should be able to get all of our increased tree requirements from just 5 percent of the world's current natural forest area if it were planted with fast-growing, intensively managed trees.
Since the high-yield forests would not be fully natural, they would be good but not great wildlife habitat.
But the high yields of timber would eliminate the need for anything but management logging in the other 95 percent of the world's forests. Now that would be truly worthy of a royal tree proclamation.
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Dennis T. Avery is based in Churchville, VA, and is director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues.