Should NAS Adopt a Public Lands Policy of
No Commercial Logging or "Zero Cut"1


by Jim Britell, Conservation Chair, Kalmiopsis Audubon Society

Summary:  Four arguments in favor of NAS adopting a policy of Zero Cut (ZC) on public lands. ZC is: not extreme nor radical; the best science available; good practical politics; already accepted by the mainstream media and some important Republican politicians. It will also increase NAS's membership. Posted to an Audubon list 01/99.


An Audubon perspective on ending commercial logging on public lands . Four arguments in favor of National Audubon Society adopting a policy of "No Commercial Logging" or "Zero Cut".

1. The best peer-reviewed science supports Zero Cut. The Clinton Forest Plan (CFP) for Pacific Northwest Forests examined nine management alternatives and selected Option 9, but scientists working on that voluminous Environmental Impact Statement said the correct scientific conclusion was Option 1 which essentially called for no logging of these forests. It would have been selected if the decision had been based on science and not Western States' politics. But even Option 1 wouldn't have protected all species at high viability levels. The CFP clearly showed that increased species viability is always directly correlated to decreased logging levels. It is possible to regress the options back to see just what logging reductions would be required to insure high species viability ratings for ALL of the 1800 species that voluminous document tried to examine.

An article I co-wrote does just that: Is Zero Cut for Wimps?. It argues that on a scientific basis, the only strategy that would protect all species -- both vertebrates which the CFP was legally obliged to protect and non-vertebrate species like plants, mollusks, and insects, which it wasn't -- would be far more restrictive than even Option 1. What I call Option minus 9 would include:

  1. no logging on public lands;
  2. purchasing millions of acres of private forests;
  3. making those acres public forests; and
  4. not logging them either.
Also, major new restrictions such as China has just introduced must be imposed on private forests.

These goals, which are far more ambitions than Zero Cut but relatively modest in terms of what is required to protect all species on public lands, are the only conclusions that can honestly be drawn from the best peer reviewed, government funded science we now have.

A policy of Zero Cut is neither extreme nor radical but only a mainstream moderate position that probably won't even accomplish Audubon's core goal: to preserve all species, vertebrate and invertebrate, at the 80% level, and retain a full complement of all species in healthy, intact, fully functioning ecosystems. If NAS is going to adopt policy positions based on the best science that will most likely preserve all species (charismatic or not) regardless of where the science leads us, embracing Zero Cut is more of a no-brainer than a bold political step into the unknown.

2. Promulgating a Zero Cut policy is perfectly consistent with simultaneous pursuit of short term forest goals such as roadless protection. The most frequent argument against national environmental groups adopting Zero Cut is, "How can forest activists work in good conscience for a goal like road reduction if their parent organization simultaneously advocates a total ban on public land logging?

Conservative right wing politicians and their interest groups do this every day. They are committed to eliminate all abortions (and apparently even contraceptives!) yet still work to ban late term abortions without anyone finding that inconsistent or hypocritical. The right is never challenged for adopting one broad goal and then trying to implement one small aspect of it, in fact they are very proud that they do so continually. There is no political basis to the argument that we will be undone if we adopt one broad national policy and simultaneously work to achieve smaller parts of that larger agenda.

Kalmiopsis Audubon Society adopted Zero Cut as chapter policy over five years ago and I have successfully intervened to stop, modify, and reduce dozens of individual timber sales since without a single challenge of inconsistency, let alone had it interfere with our daily forest activism.

3. Major mainstream papers and conservative leaders already accept Zero Cut and advocate for it publicly. Republican Congressman James Leach, Chairman of the House Banking Committee who introduced no commercial logging legislation (NFRPA) wrote a New York Times op-ed piece supporting Zero Cut in much stronger and specific language than any "mainstream" environmental group has ever been willing to use. The Washington Post editorialized, "Commercial logging in the forests needs to become the exception, not the rule..."

The terms of the debate over National Forest protection have evolved and Zero Cut is now a position attractive to broad segments of mainstream conservative thinking in America. For example at a public forum recently in my small Oregon town, our Republican Senator Smith (certainly no friend of Zero Cut) said in response to a question about the county's share of timber receipts, that the US had basically decided not to log public lands any more. His comment passed unchallenged by the large group in attendance.

Most Americans don't know that the green places on maps of the west aren't national parks let alone that they are national forests that are being logged. Recently Greenpeace conducted focus groups which consisted of potential members with pro-environmental opinions and found that even these people think American forest problems are over, and that deforestation is a problem just in places like Brazil. Greenpeace concluded that the debate over our forests is too complicated for the average person to follow. A ban on logging in National Forests is an argument the American people can grasp.

4. Zero Cut will be very positive for NAS's "bottom line". The absence of aggressive policy leadership among national environmental groups has created an enormous market niche that is currently being filled by thousand of grassroots groups whose collective membership is probably equal to the membership of the nationals. For the last ten years the estimated 10,000 or so youngish members of unaffiliated environmental groups in Oregon alone could have been the recruitment base for the aging activist membership base of the Sierra Club and Audubon if the nationals had advocated the vigorous policy appropriate to and required by the times. But, alas, these young people have found homes elsewhere.

Our chapter finds that every time we take very strong positions we probably attract two new members for every one that drops out over it. The future growth of national membership will depend on how we are perceived by the 12-19 year old young people who idolize the Julia Butterfly's of this world (Julia Butterfly has protected a tree by living in it for the past year).

Conclusion: The best science available; politics as it is now practiced in this country; mainstream public opinion; and the commercial interests of NAS provide prudent, practical, compelling arguments for NAS to adopt Zero Cut as our national forest policy.

  1. Researcher Note: The Clinton Forest Summit was a step on the path of the Northwest Forest Plan, aka (NWFP), or Clinton Forest plan (CFP) and the many associated studies and reports with their formal and informal names and abbreviations e.g. Forest Ecosystem Assessment Team (FEMAT), Interagency Scientific Committee, Option 9, Scientific Assessment Team (SAT), "God Squad", Zero Cut and "gang of four". The lead scientist for these studies and the head of the FS throughout was Jack Ward Thomas aka J.W. Thomas) who unraveled all these in 2003 at http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/nwfp/plans/sus.shtml. Other articles of mine on this are at: Clinton Forest Summit, Clinton Forest Plan, Option 9 Analysis, Clinton Forest Plan – Final, Clinton Forest plan impact on Siskiyou Forest

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