Recent Changes in the Clearcutting Policy in the Forest Service

The problems with clearcutting have persisted. The Forest Service began to back away from this controversial harvesting method, when Chief Dale Robertson proposed new policies in 1988 and 1992. The 1992 policy, with seven criteria, called for eliminating clearcutting by as much as 70 percent from the 1988 levels. However, backlash from environmental groups and the timber industry continued to make headlines over clearcutting and this policy. Environmental groups found several loopholes in the new direction that they felt were "as large as a logging truck."

Clearcutting remains the silvicultural timber harvest method of choice, especially in the private sector, but resource conditions and restrictions by various forest and ecosystem plans have made clearcutting on the national forests mostly a memory. Even parts of the private sector are changing. The Canadian timber giant MacMillan Bloedel announced that the company would halt the use of clearcutting in the Province of British Columbia. The company said it would "pursue a new stewardship strategy that focuses on old-growth and habitat conservation." The bold move, immediately praised by the environmental community, puts pressure on other forest products companies on Canada's west coast to follow suit (The Forestry Source 1998: 1).

Ivan Doig in his classic 1975 article "The Murky Annals of Clearcutting" summarized the clearcutting controversy when he wrote:

Professional foresters were honestly disagreeing about silvicultural alternatives, but mostly on economic grounds...All in all, [the arguments should]...serve as a classic lesson that disputes over the use of our [national] forests are not going to be decided on ecological merit alone. Nowhere near it.