COURT, USDA NEAR DECISIONS ON EXTENT TO WHICH FORESTS WILL BE PROTE

Western Ancient Forest Campaign wafcdc at igc.apc.org
Thu May 14 14:32:59 EST 1998


From: Steve Holmer <wafcdc at igc.apc.org>
Subject: COURT, USDA NEAR DECISIONS ON EXTENT TO WHICH FORESTS WILL BE  PROTECTED


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: May 14, 1998

Paige Fischer, Pacific Environment and Resources Center (PERC), San
Francisco, CA, 415-332-8200
Faith Campbell, Western Ancient Forest Campaign (WAFC), Washington,
D.C.  202-879-3188
Michael Axline, Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), Eugene,
OR, 541-485-2471


      COURT, USDA NEAR DECISIONS ON EXTENT TO WHICH
                FORESTS WILL BE PROTECTED

On Friday, May 15 a U.S. federal judge and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture step closer to decisions that will determine how well American
forests are protected from damaging invasions by exotic pests.  

In Oakland, California, a U.S. federal judge will revisit the current
injunction which bans new permits for raw wood imports into the U.S.
due to risks posed to U.S. forests by exotic species.  The court will
consider a request by the Government of Chile to intervene in the lawsuit. 
Chile and New Zealand, both major exporters of unprocessed wood to the
U.S., are lobbying vigorously to have the court's injunction lifted and to
weaken federal regulations.  Chile's proposed intervention raises concerns
about how free trade agreements will limit the U.S.' ability to protect its
forests from exotic pests.  

Environmental organizations had sought the injunction to pressure the
USDA to corrects gaps in its phytosanitary regulations which they contend
will allow in pests that will endanger our forests.  "The USDA itself
estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, invasion of Western forests by
exotic pests could cost the U.S. $58 billion in timber losses alone," said
Paige Fischer of Pacific Environment and Resources Center.

"This is the most important environmental issue of the decade," said Mike
Axline, lead counsel from the Western Environmental Law Center.  "If
exotic pests from other countries begin decimating our forests, all of the
work that has been done to protect habitat and water quality on public
lands will have been for nothing."

Environmental groups are calling on the judge to continue the injunction
on new raw wood imports and to deny Chile's attempt to weaken U.S.
environmental protection efforts.  

"The U.S. timber owners who should be worried about raw log imports --
such as International paper and Weyerhaeuser -- also have major holdings
in the very foreign corporations which are trying to export to the U.S.,"
said Fischer of PERC.  "Chile's motion to intervene in the case on behalf
of USDA clearly shows how multinational corporations are trying to gain
control over the environmental policies that only U.S. citizens should
determine."

"These imports provide short-term benefits for a very few mills, but they
pose long-term risks of catastrophic destruction of entire forests.  If that
happens, the entire wood products industry will suffer monumental
impacts.  USDA's regulations are incredibly short-sighted," David Gordon
of PERC added.  "It makes no sense for the United States to ship billions
of board feet of ancient forest logs from the United States to other
countries, only to turn around and encourage other countries to ship
billions of board feet of potentially diseased logs to the United States."


Also on May 15, in Washington, D.C., the USDA will announce that
imports of wood packing material and of logs from Mexico both pose very
high risks of introducing harmful insects and disease pathogens into forests
in the East, Great Lakes region, South, and Southwest.  In just 30
months, USDA inspectors examining a small fraction of shipments
entering the country have detected "significant" pests on the packing
material used in more than 450 shipments.

"USDA is reversing decisions made just three years ago that imports of
wood packing material and of logs from Mexico were not likely to
introduce harmful pests," said Faith Campbell of the Western Ancient
Forest Campaign.  "We welcome USDA's awakening to the threat
associated with these imports.  However, this reversal calls into question
the scientific soundness of USDA's decisions to retain minimal
phytosanitary safeguards for logs, which are imported primarily on the
Pacific coast near highly-valued Ancient Forests." 

                          # 30 #
                             
                             
BACKGROUND

A single shipload of logs can fill one thousand log trucks.  Each log
potentially could harbor an insect or fungus that could cause as much
damage as the chestnut or elm blights, which virtually eliminated these
magnificent trees from forests reaching from Canada to Alabama.  Pests
can escape to trees near the port while the logs are being unloaded; or into
forests neighboring the roads on which the logs are transported --
sometimes for hundreds of miles -- or the mills in which they are
processed.  The Oregon Department of Agriculture reports that it finds
potential pests on each shipment of imported wood that it inspects -- often
despite shippers' apparent compliance with USDA's regulations.

Sawmills on the West coast currently import 132,000 cubic meters of logs
and lumber from Mexico, 17,000 cubic meters from Chile, and $140
million (NZ$) worth from New Zealand.  Exporters are eager to ship
more logs.

The U.S. receives nearly 2 million shipments each year; a high proportion
include wooden packing material such as pallets, crates, wooden spindles
for wire, or dunnage.  Since 1990, three harmful insects have been
discovered that arrived here in wooden packing material.  They are the
larger pine shoot beetle and a Eurasian spruce beetle, found in Great
Lakes ports; and the Asian long-horn beetle, found in New York,
Charleston, and Los Angeles.

Mexico's forests harbor many species of insects and fungi that threaten to
damage U.S. forests if they are introduced.  At greatest risk are southern
and coastal states through which lumber from Mexico is transported. 
However, pests from mountain forests in Mexico could prove harmful
even in our northern states.

In 1995, the Pacific Environment and Resources Center, Oregon Natural
Resources Council (ONRC), and Northcoast Environmental Center
(NEC), represented by the Western Environmental Law Center,
challenged the Environmental Impact Statement on which the USDA based
phytosanitary regulations governing imports of logs and other unprocessed
wood.  In June 1997, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued an
injunction prohibiting USDA from issuing new import permits until the
USDA had issued a new EIS that adequately discloses the threats that
foreign insect and fungal pests pose to U.S. forests and the relative
effectiveness of various techniques to minimize those threats.  Importers
who already had permits could continue to import logs and lumber. 
Certain raw wood articles for which no permit is required, such as wood
packing material and railroad ties, also continue to enter the country.

The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement produced by USDA
fails to address the substantive weaknesses identified by the court i the
original Environmental Impact Statement:

* USDA's failure to consider a zero risk option that would truly protect
U.S. forests from ecological diseases;
* USDA's failure to address the likelihood that exporting countries will
not comply with the regulations;

* USDA's failure to consider environmental impacts on forests and
biodiversity in other countries such as Chile, New Zealand, and Russia.

Steve Holmer
Campaign Coordinator

Western Ancient Forest Campaign
1025 Vermont Ave. NW  3rd Floor
Washington, D.C. 20005
202/879-3188
202/879-3189 fax
wafcdc at igc.org




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