Enviros slam Campbell for timber appropriation
Environmentalists have charged that Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell’s request for a $2 million timber appropriation is connected to a $5,000 campaign contribution he received from a wood product company.
The appropriation, for the U.S. Forest Service budget, would be specifically for cutting aspen timber on national forests in Western Colorado, for the production of wafer board by Louisiana-Pacific Corporation. The money would be used for road building and for preparing environmental assessments for timber cuts. The appropriations bill will be discussed on the Senate floor this week.
Campbell’s request comes at a time when congressional appropriations for Forest Service recreation programs have shrunk to the point that tourists and valley locals will soon have to pay to visit Maroon Lake.
A release from Western Colorado Congress and American Lands Alliance says a political action committee representing Louisiana-Pacific, which has a large waferboard plant in Olathe, gave Campbell the $5,000 in 1998. It was the PAC’s largest contribution to any candidate.
The aspen trees would be cut in the White River National Forest, as well as Mesa, Gunnison and Uncompahgre national forests. Phil Stiers, a timber specialist for the White River National Forest, said it’s not yet known exactly where the aspens would be cut.
Another document distributed by Western Colorado Congress reportedly quotes an unidentified Campbell staffer as saying Campbell’s appropriation provision was a response to a request from Louisiana-Pacific.
James Doyle, Campbell’s communications director, said Friday the timber cutting represented by Campbell’s appropriation request has the support of all the local communities and counties affected, and the backing of the Colorado state forester.
Sloan Shoemaker, of the Aspen Wilderness Workshop, said Louisiana-Pacific is out of line in its actions. “They’re buying congressmen with their campaign contributions,” he said, “and getting taxpayers money to pay for the destruction of our forests.”
Shoemaker noted that, because Congress has drastically cut funds for recreation improvements in national forests, the Aspen Ranger District of the Forest Service is being forced to implement user fees at Maroon Lake. “But Campbell is simultaneously handing out corporate welfare, to the tune of $2 million” to Louisiana Pacific. User fees for national forest land on the backside of Aspen Mountain are also under discussion, because the Forest Service cannot fund a ranger to look after the area.
Walt Rule, a retired Forest Service District Ranger and a spokesman for the Western Colorado Congress, said aspen timber sales on federal land are almost always “below-cost” sales, meaning that Louisiana-Pacific would pay the Forest Service less for the trees than the government would spend to prepare environmental assessments and build roads for the logging company.
Doyle said any opposition to the timber sales should be directed toward the Forest Service, not Senator Campbell.
“They want and need the resources, and it’s not our job to decide how they spend it,” Doyle said. He said forest management plans call for thinning of aspen forests in areas where it’s appropriate.
Rule said Louisiana-Pacific’s aspen cutting is an ongoing project, but aspen stands that the company can cut on federal land are getting harder to find.
He said Campbell may be misinformed on the science involved in clearcutting aspen timber. Rule said Campbell may have been influenced by a report from Club 20, a Western Slope business advocacy group, which says aspen forests are being lost to succession, which means they are being replaced by coniferous forests.
But aspen forests have a more complex cycle, Rule said. Some aspen groves are in fact lost as other tree species replace them, but other aspen stands replace themselves, and aspens often replace conifers after fire or other such disturbances.
“It’s a misconception that you have to cut the aspen to save it,” Rule said.
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