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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Clinton's Forest Plan ... Final Take?

Air Date: Week of

Host Steve Curwood talks with syndicated columnist and Living on Earth analyst Russell Sadler about spotted owls, salmon, and sour grapes over the Clinton administration’s final Northwest forest management plan. The plan is being submitted to the judge who originally blocked logging in the region's old growth forests. Sadler says over the last year it has been transformed from a spotted owl recovery plan to an ecosystem-recovery plan.


CURWOOD: Three years after a judge shut down logging in Federal old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest to protect the endangered spotted owl, and after a year of study and negotiations by the Clinton Administration, the White House has released what it hopes will be its final plan for protecting those virgin woodlands. The revised Clinton plan calls for even less logging than originally proposed. The Government has received over 100,000 comments on its forest plan, but the most important opinion has yet to be heard. US District Judge William Dwyer, who first imposed the logging ban, must decide whether this plan is sufficient to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act. Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist in Oregon and a regular analyst of northwest forest issues for Living on Earth. Sadler says the final Administration plan allows less logging than earlier versions because it takes into account other endangered species, especially salmon, which require more protected territory than the spotted owls.

SADLER: On the way to writing their Federal Forest Management Plan, the Clinton Administration has abandoned the spotted owl recovery plan, and that has become a salmon recovery plan. That's startling news because it will involve a new form of management over many thousand acres more than was necessary merely to protect the spotted owl. Under the Clinton plan, the Federal Government, including the Forest Service, is moving to something everybody's been calling ecosystem management. Now, to be honest, nobody's sure what that is.


SADLER: But it is clear what it is not. Whatever else ecosystem management is, it is not single species management. And that has enormous consequences, because every state fish and wildlife department does single species management, and of course the Endangered Species Act is the ultimate act of single species management.

CURWOOD: So the Clinton Administration has really changed its frame of reference.


CURWOOD: From just looking at the spotted owl to whole ecosystem management, rather quietly but significantly.

SADLER: Ironically, this is probably the best course for the Forest Service, because it is a decentralized management organization. Management policies that work in the Douglas fir region of the Pacific Northwest won't work in the piney woods of the Carolinas. The Forest Service's decentralized management permits them to alter this philosophy of ecosystem management to fit the reality on the ground.

CURWOOD: How are loggers responding to this? Are they feeling double-crossed? That Clinton had made a promise of much more logging than he's now offering?

SADLER: The most astonishing thing is how quiet it is out here.

CURWOOD: Really.

SADLER: The loudest voices are the timber industry trade associations, who are saying what you're just saying: we got double-crossed. And the Oregon Natural Resources Council, which came out and argued for a complete ban on any logging at all. Neither of those voices are likely to be heeded. And I think the reasons for that are, are pretty clear. All the damage and all the short-term economic consequences of these court injunctions and the diminished log supply have just about run their course. The surviving mills in the region have switched to second-growth logs and are no longer as dependent on Federal logs, and the mills that were dependent on Federal logs are now largely out of business.

CURWOOD: Do you think the environmentalists are going to go along with this region by region ecosystem management? They've been leery of it when it comes to the grazing fees.

SADLER: This is going to be a significant political struggle. Right now, ecosystem management means that land management has to be made region by region; one size does not fit all. The political structure of the environmental movement, like the industry lobbying, however, is all centralized in Washington, DC. Any effort to manage the Federal public lands region by region will undercut the lobby groups inside the Beltway. And they don't like it; that's why you get the environmental groups jumping up and down, sending out heavy breathing alerts over things like the Applegate partnership here in Oregon, where the timber industry and the environmental groups and the river runners and what have you are all sitting down around a table and working out their problems.

CURWOOD: Let's talk about the judge here. Do you think he's going to accept this plan? This is Judge William Dwyer.

SADLER: If you read the tea leaves, it looks like Dwyer is getting tired of the criticism that is coming with his custody of the Federal forests. And there are signs that Dwyer would like to get this off his plate. The Clinton Administration is the first good-faith effort by the Executive Branch to come up with something that can be remotely argued complies with the Endangered Species Act and the rest of the Federal laws that govern Federal land management.

CURWOOD: Are we just about at the end of this? Do you see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel of solving this hassle?

SADLER: There aren't a lot of resources left to play politics with out here. We have logged most of the old growth. The Pacific Northwest has the last remaining stands of old growth timber that existed when Columbus banged up on the other side of the continent. And I suspect from the political standpoint, the largest issue is there's not a lot left to fight over. So yeah, there's got to be some light at the end of the tunnel. This controversy can't go on much longer.

CURWOOD: Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist and an analyst for Living on Earth.



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