The letter, a project of the Sierra Club and signed by Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Dr. Anne Ehrlich and other prominent scientists, primarily biologists, asserted that the American taxpayer not only subsidizes logging directly, but also indirectly, because logging reduces the economic value of the forest for other uses.
"It is now widely recognized that commercial logging has damaged ecosystem health, clean water, and recreational opportunities," the letter reads. "Annually, timber produces roughly $4 billion per year (from national forests), while recreation, fish and wildlife, clean water and unroaded areas provide a combined total of $224 billion to the American economy each year."
Timber industry officials, however, said that the scientists' argument was wrongheaded. Not only does cutting timber on national forests provide wood products, they said, it also keeps forests healthy.
"All this national forest land the environmentalists want to sit there and burn, which is what it is doing now," said John Mechem, a spokesman for the American Forest and Paper Association. "We've seen fire after fire because environmentalists want to wall off the national forests. There is a scientific argument for active forest management, which includes tree removal."
Dr. David R. Foster, a professor of ecology at Harvard University, said that a ban on public-lands logging would not affect the nation's supply of timber.
Just 4 percent of the nation's timber comes from federal forest land, according to the letter, an amount Dr. Foster said could be made up through more intensive cutting on tree farms and recycling, among other things.