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

March 26, 1993

Air Date: March 26, 1993


Staking out the Forest Conference / Gordon Black

On April 2, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore and four Cabinet Secretaries will convene the Northwest Forest Conference in Portland, Oregon. The event is billed as a forum that will bring together all sides on the logging/spotted owl debate. Gordon Black reports from Seattle on the positions being staked out by environmentalists and loggers, and he's finding compromise may not be easy. (06:20)

The Administration View

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with US Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt who will be one of the key players at the forest conference. Babbitt believes a compromise protecting the spotted owl as well as allowing some logging to begin by all is possible. (05:15)

"Making a Difference"

essay contest promo. (01:30)

What's The Answer?

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Russell Sadler about what a possible compromise on Northwest forestry issues will look like and what political hurdles the President and Congress will have to jump. (05:00)

Views from the Northwest / George Homsy

With the help of reporters in the Oregon and Washington, Living on Earth producer George Homsy pulled together this small sample of the divergent views from the people who live near, work in and enjoy the Pacific Northwest. ()

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Dan Ferguson, Betsy Bayha, Gordon Black
GUESTS: Bruce Babbitt, Russell Sadler

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

As the White House conference on the Northwest Forests comes to pass, President Clinton is pledging to find a way to lift the ban on Federal logging without hurting the environment.

CLINTON: I will try to be fair to the people whose livelihoods depend on this, and fair to the environment that we are all obligated to maintain.

CURWOOD: Clinton's team says he wants consensus for a more flexible way to protect endangered species, with the goal of resuming some logging by fall. But some conservationists say they will fight any move to get the logs rolling again.

WHITNEY : Unfortunately, the opportunity for compromise is somewhat limited. We have cut ourselves into a corner in the Pacific Northwest. There is very little forest left.

CURWOOD: A preview of Clinton's bid to solve the spotted-owl crisis . . . this week on Living on Earth, right after the news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

While US loggers and environmentalists prepare to sit down together with President Clinton to discuss the Northwest forests, their Canadian counterparts just across the border seem locked in confrontation. From Vancouver, Dan Ferguson reports.

FERGUSON: Clayoquot Sound has some of the oldest trees in Canada. Covering 60 miles of untouched Canadian coastline on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the Sound has become the focus of an angry fight between loggers who want to cut the trees, and environmentalists who want the old-growth forest left alone. For the environmentalists, it's a fight to save the last untouched ancient forest in the Province of British Columbia. For the loggers, who want to cut 83% of Clayoquot Sound, the issue is economic, as more and more areas of British Columbia are declared off-limits to loggers, there is less and less wood to feed the forest products industry -- an industry worth more than ten billion dollars a year to the region. In recent weeks the debate has become louder and the confrontations have become more violent. In one recent clash, angry anti-logging protesters forced their way into the provincial legislature, injuring one security guard and vandalizing government chambers. For Living on Earth, this is Dan Ferguson in Vancouver.

NUNLEY: In the first statewide review in the US, all eight of New York's electric companies will survey power lines near schools. New York Attorney General Robert Abrams asked for the studies in reaction to reports linking childhood leukemia to magnetic fields from power lines. One utility - Niagara Mohawk - began its own survey in 1991, and has since agreed to move and reconfigure power lines near one school. Attorney General Abrams says other New York utilities may have to follow suit.

ABRAMS: If there are strong cases of the need to take corrective action, I think there is going to be a good deal of pressure on a utility company to do it.

NUNLEY: The power industry still questions the scientific evidence linking electromagnetic fields to childhood leukemia and other cancers.

California health officials report unusually high miscarriage rates near the site of a train wreck that dumped 20 thousand gallons of the herbicide metam sodium into the Sacramento River . Betsy Bayha of KQED in San Francisco reports.

BAYHA: Most of the residents living near the river's edge breathed in gaseous fumes let off by the chemical as it drifted downstream. A two-year study by the State Department of Health Services shows that 45% of the women who were pregnant at the time had miscarriages -- about twice the rate experienced by the general population. Department of Health researcher Amy Casey says the state is interpreting the information cautiously.

CASEY: Based on the type of survey we did and also because of the small number of women who were pregnant we aren't able to say whether the spill caused these miscarriages, or whether the spill did not cause the miscarriages.

BAYHA: Researchers also found other health problems reported by local residents, including skin rashes, vision changes, and asthma. For Living on Earth, I'm Betsy Bayha in San Francisco.

NUNLEY: This is Living on Earth.

New York State says Federal plans to allow utilities to trade sulphur dioxide pollution credits will do little to reduce acid rain over the Northeast. The state is suing the EPA in a bid to force an environmental assessment of all emissions trades. Thomas Jorling, commissioner of New York's Department of Environment and Conservation, says credits bought from cleaner Northeastern power companies could be sold to dirtier utilities in the Midwest. Jorling says the Midwestern plants are the major source of acid rain in New York's Adirondack State Park.

JORLING: We know which plants should be controlled and there shouldn't be any gaming about which ones should be controlled, they should be controlled directly. To give them the option of buying credits to avoid pollution controls is a misguided use of the trading program.

NUNLEY: But proponents of pollution trading say it will reduce acid rain in New York. They say Midwestern power companies are already cutting emissions to free up pollution credits of their own to sell.

Rather than sell its pollution credits, a Connecticut-based utility has donated the right to release ten thousand tons of sulfur dioxide, valued at $3 million dollars, to the American Lung Association. Northeast Utilities is the first US company to give up pollution credits, granted by the Clean Air Act in return for reducing emissions beyond required levels. The company gets 60 percent of its power from two New Hampshire nuclear reactors.

Doubling the amount of fresh air in air-conditioned office buildings with sealed windows doesn't seem to cure "sick building syndrome" among workers. That's what a group of Canadian researchers are reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine. A long-standing hypothesis says boosting the supply of outside air will clear up the symptoms, which include eye, nose and throat irritations, headaches and fatigue. Yet the study says workers still reported discomfort even while more outdoor air was circulating, but when workers left the building, they recovered. Earlier studies show that workers in air-conditioned buildings report more symptoms than those in naturally-ventilated work spaces.

That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

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(Theme music up and fade under sound of chainsaw)

Staking out the Forest Conference

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

(Sound of tree falling, chainsaws)

CURWOOD: Until a Federal judge suspended virtually all logging of old-growth trees in Federal lands in the Pacific Northwest, that was the sound of financial music for loggers and the crash of irreversible ecosystem destruction for conservationists. Today the Federal forests are quiet, because the courts have yet to be satisfied that further cuts won't result in the extinction of the spotted owl. But beyond the narrow court cases, there are greater environmental concerns for America's last major stand of virgin and old-growth forest in the lower 48 states. These concerns range across the entire ecosystem -- from other bird species to the sustainability of salmon runs. On April 2nd, President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore are scheduled to go to Portland, Oregon and lead a one-day conference on the dilemma faced by the timber industry and the environment in the Pacific Northwest. The President says he plans to . . .

CLINTON: Listen, hammer out the alternatives, and then take a position that I think will break the logjam -- the position that may be like my economic program, it'll probably make everybody mad, but I will try to be fair to the people whose livelihoods depend on this, and fair to the environment that we are all obligated to maintain.

CURWOOD: Later in this program, we'll hear from Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on how the Administration views the problems, and some possible solutions. But first, we turn to Gordon Black in Seattle, who has this report on what logging companies, laborers and conservationists plan to say to the President.

BLACK: The President's Portland conference team faces a barrage of facts and numbers about Northwest forests. Both main sides are coming to the conference armed with revealing figures to bank their positions. Environmentalists quote the stark statistic about how much ancient forest is left -- just 15%, they say. And the timber industry points out that sales in the national forests have fallen 80% in the past two years. As the industry approaches the conference, it's dealing with a drop in supply and the new political mood at the White House. This has led to a softening of its position on the Federal forests. Gus Kinney is executive director of Northwest Independent Forest Manufacturers, which represents small mills.

KINNEY: We're willing to in essence say that we'll virtually give up clear-cutting, which is by far the most economic and it's environmentally sound -- it doesn't look good, people don't like it, but we're willing to give up that to respond to the concerns that the public has with that practice, and to do types of logging that are much more expensive.

BLACK: Although willing to adapt, the industry is not about to give up its access to remaining old-growth. But environmentalists say that's what the industry has to do.

WHITNEY: Unfortunately, the opportunity for compromise is somewhat limited. We have cut ourselves into a corner in the Pacific Northwest. There is very little forest left.

BLACK: Steve Whitney directs the Washington state office of the Wilderness Society.

WHITNEY: To get out of that corner, it's going to be abrupt, and it's going to be disruptive, and it's going to be difficult for some rural towns, and mills, and mill workers. The best thing that we can do to ensure a reliable flow of timber to mills in the Pacific Northwest is to put in place a package of protections for the ancient forests and all of the critters that depend on them, that meets the test of law so we can get out of court, and once the reserves established we can talk about what sort of harvest makes sense on the lands outside the reserves.

BLACK: Whitney and other environmentalists contend that preserving old-growth forests will help create a stable supply of logs for the timber industry from second- and third-growth forests. Environmentalists will have allies at the conference who support this position. Over the years, logging has degraded the region's waterways. The Pacific Rivers Council, a coalition of commercial and recreational fishers, also favors protection of remaining old-growth forests. Bob Dappelt is executive director.

DAPPELT: The older, mature vegetation that exists within the forest watersheds of this region really are the existing anchors to the health of the fisheries and to the health of the river systems.

BLACK: The timber industry's Gus Kinney worries that these kinds of arguments will carry weight with the Clinton team at the conference.

KINNEY: I gotta say that I'm also a little discouraged by the fact that some in the Clinton Administration don't seem to understand the problem out here. They seem to think that the solution is in fact more withdrawals from any kind of management and establishing more reserves.

BLACK: Despite the gap between what environmentalists and the timber industry want out of the conference, both now talk of an ecosystem approach to forest management. This method of recognizing all elements within the forest as integral to its health is also on the mind of President Clinton. That's according to Representative Jolene Unsoeld, a Washington State Democrat active in forestry issues.

UNSOELD: He understands that part of the way you take an ecosystem approach is that you also bring your agencies that each have a little piece of the action and bring them together. He's going to have four Cabinet-level, either secretaries or directors participating in this conference, plus himself and the Vice President. You couldn't give it much greater high-level priority, it seems to me.

BLACK: Presidential priority notwithstanding, Clinton has said no policy decisions will be made at the one-day conference. But Congresswoman Unsoeld expects that following the conference, the Administration will present to the Congress aimed at resolving the Northwest forestry issue this fall. For Living on Earth, I'm Gordon Black in Seattle.

Back to top

(Music up and under)

The Administration View

CURWOOD: A key member of the White House entourage in Portland will be Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior. He says the President is going to Portland with the idea of looking for a compromise that will protect the spotted owl and lead to the resumption of some logging on Federal lands, perhaps by fall. But it will be difficult to craft a plan, says Babbitt, because emotions are running high, and certain actions were taken by the previous Administration.

BABBITT: I think what we should get out of this conference is a good beginning, that the President will do what he does so well, which is listen carefully, ask a lot of good questions, and build a sense of confidence and participation. I think in a sense you could compare it to the conference in Little Rock on the economy that took place just before Christmas. It was a conference that did not yield a sort of manifesto at the end of the day. It was the beginning of a process which led to a budget proposal which led to legislation now moving through Congress. And I think that's the pathway that this could well take.

CURWOOD: In advance of the conference, there's some sense of confrontation here. We hear that loggers are going to send trucks and have demonstrations, that environmentalists are planning to have some large rallies. We didn't see this before the President's economic conference in Little Rock.

BABBITT: Well, bear in mind that this dispute has been going on for ten years now, and that the Federal Government for the last ten years has been part of the problem -- it's really been the enemy. The parties who should have solved it, Forest Service and my own Department, the Department of the Interior, have spent their time stonewalling, being duplicitous in front of the Federal judge, and finally leading the judge to issue an injunction saying 'no more timber cuts at all until you get your act together'. So, if there's a certain level of tension and a certain skepticism about the Federal Government, all I can say is, I certainly understand why, because these people who are out of jobs have been misled and two-timed by the Federal Government.

CURWOOD: Those are pretty strong charges, that the previous people in your office and in the Agriculture Department, the Forestry Service, lied and were duplicitous.

BABBITT: Those are strong words, but I would ask you to read the written judicial opinions of Judge William Dwyer, who is the Federal judge in Seattle, a Reagan appointee -- if you read his opinions, he doesn't use exactly those words, but I would submit to you that those are accurate words to describe what that judge said about the behavior of Federal agencies who clearly were trying to undermine the law, frustrate the judge, and discredit the entire administration of the Federal laws.

CURWOOD: To the end of?

BABBITT: Well, that's the question. And I suspect it will take a novelist or a historian to understand what went on, and the reason that I can't answer the question is that sometimes incompetence and inattention has the same look as a deliberate conspiracy, so I think there are really two explanations. One is they just weren't interested, didn't care about the fate of the people and said we're just going to let the train wreck occur. That's the incompetence and inattention theory. The conspiracy theory says that it was a deliberate attempt to destroy these communities and people's lives and create a crisis for a political purpose, so that they could then go back in an election year and say, see the crisis? The law won't work, therefore you've got to repeal the laws and blame the environment.

CURWOOD: What's at stake here for the President politically?

BABBITT: Well, I think it's important because you'll remember that during the campaign the old-growth forest became a sort of symbol of two different approaches: the Bush Administration saying you can have either economic growth or the environment, it's either jobs or the environment, you can't have both, you're gonna have to choose, and our choice is to allow the destruction to continue -- President Clinton in contrast in Portland said, I believe that if we work together we can find space for both, and indeed that it's important to have a sound environment as the basis for a strong economy. So that's really what's at stake. It's an important issue in those two states; it is a test of the President's ability to get the Federal agencies together, get a plan going. It's not going to be easy. I mean, the timber cut levels that were permitted in the last Administration were false and artificial, they can't be sustained, and surely expectations have got to be lowered and be reasonable. But in that context I think that we can get people together.

CURWOOD: Bruce Babbitt is US Secretary of the Interior. Coming up, more perspectives on the forest conference in the Pacific Northwest , but first . . .

Back to top

(Music up and under)

"Making a Difference"

CURWOOD: What would you do to make a difference for the environment if you were President? Let us know -- enter the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" contest, in cooperation with Stonyfield Farm Yogurt.

2nd Voice: Write a poem, a letter, a song, or a rap. Tell us in 500 words or less, what you'd do to improve the environment for your community, the country, or the planet in general.

3rd Voice: We'll judge your entries on their creativity, their clarity and real-life application. Be passionate, precise, and personal.

4th Voice: First prize for adults is a ten-day trip for two to the rainforest and national parks of Costa Rica, courtesy of Overseas Adventure Travel, specializing in ecotourism treks, safaris, and rainforest expeditions around the world. Some travel restrictions apply.

5th Voice: First prize for kids under 18 is a $1000 savings bond and a gift certificate for a bicycle and a helmet!

6th Voice: And of course, the winners and runners-up will have their entries broadcast on Living on Earth.

7th Voice: Written and recorded entries must be postmarked by May 1st.

8th Voice: The first 300 people to enter will receive a Living on Earth/ Stonyfield Farm Yogurt "Making a Difference" totebag.

CURWOOD: For details on the Living on Earth "Making a Difference" contest, call Living on Earth at 617-868-7454. That's 617-868-7454. Or write to us at Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Mass, 02238.

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(Music out)

What's The Answer?

CURWOOD: One of the most difficult problems over the near term in the Northwest is job loss. About a third of the milling work force has lost its jobs to new technologies since 1979. And in some plants two workers can now do what it used to take four or more to accomplish. And, says Russell Sadler, a syndicated columnist and commentator from Eugene, Oregon, both the logging companies and the environmentalists have a vested interest now in the status quo of suspended logging. He predicts that getting a compromise will be tough.

SADLER: It doesn't much matter whether we're talking about certain national environmental groups who are invested with lawyers and using the Endangered Species Act in court, or whether it's private timber owners like Weyerhauser and Georgia-Pacific who are getting artificially high prices for their trees because there are no trees coming off Federal forest land to compete with them. None of these people have a stake in resolving the problem.

CURWOOD: So if people don't want to solve the problem, how will it get solved?

SADLER: A lot of it, I think, depends on Clinton and his insistence that the interest groups, whether they're the timber industry interest groups or the environmental interest groups, cannot go to Congress and try to get a second bite of the apple. That is to say, whatever consensus the Administration builds out of this summit becomes the Clinton Administration policy, which, being Democratic, it will sell to a Democratic Congress, and that's the way things will go.

CURWOOD: What do you think a deal from this conference is going to look like?

SADLER: The most important intellectual idea on the board right now to build consensus around is ecosystem management. Nobody knows what that is; we know what it is not. We know ecosystem management is not single-species management, whether it's the Endangered Species Act, whether it's so much wilderness versus timber targets -- single species management is what got us into this trouble in the first place. If you're interested in the health of the forest, you've got to build a new consensus for Federal forest management. I think the basis for that consensus is something called "new forestry," a management philosophy written up largely by a fellow named Jerry Franklin, who is now at the University of Washington. His idea is to leave intact those areas that are not fragmented, that is, those areas of the old forest that are still intact ecosystems. But there's a lot of forest around here that is not, it's fragmented. Franklin insists you can't preserve that. Bugs'll get it, it'll blow down, it'll burn down, one way or the other, because it is not part of an intact ecosystem it won't survive. His argument is to cut it in a way that leaves enough forest around it to restore the old-growth characteristics of the forest as rapidly as possible.

CURWOOD: What kind of dilemma do you think Congress faces in addressing this? They either have to override the court decision, which is put cutting on Federal lands on hold for the time being, or lower environmental standards, or upset the timber industry by having much lower harvest quotas than were in place before.

SADLER: Congress has to make a decision, and it's a decision they won't like 'cause they can't win. But Congress has functionally declared the equivalent of Chapter 11 -- they have no more money in their pork barrel. For a decade they have substituted resources in the Western pork barrel; they gave the environmentalists so much wilderness, they gave the timber industry so much wood. And frankly the resource isn't holding up any better than the money did. And they've got to wean themselves from this habit and of course that's painful withdrawal.

CURWOOD: Well, tell me -- can President Clinton deliver on his promise? Can he protect the owl and protect the logging business?

SADLER: It is possible to do both things at a reduced level. What everybody has to understand is the environmentalists aren't going to get their paralysis -- there will be some logging -- and the industry has to understand that they aren't going to get their historic level of board footage off the national forests any more.

CURWOOD: Would that be a win for Clinton?

SADLER: If Bill Clinton solves this problem, so that some logging resumes, but that there are dramatic changes in the clearcutting and in the roadbuilding, a major reduction in those things, he will win. Understand that Ronald Reagan did not win Oregon and Washington in his second election, George Bush never won Oregon and Washington. And they didn't win out here, not because we're Republicans or Democrats, but because the people out here through all strata of society felt ignored. Clinton is going to make a personal appearance, he's going to exert some leadership for a day -- hopefully he will delegate this to competent people, and one way or another we will move to resolve the conflict.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much. Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist and radio commentator from Eugene, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

SADLER: It's my pleasure.

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(Music up and under)

Views from the Northwest

CURWOOD: While many people have positive feelings about the President's forest conference, few are underestimating the difficulty of the task. The issue has been a hot one for years, and if the President could interview the nearly ten million people who live in the Pacific Northwest, he would certainly get ten million different views on the problems. Of course, it's impossible for us to talk to nearly everyone there, or even a large percentage. But, with help from Oregon Public Broadcasting, KLCC in Eugene, and the Northwest Public Affairs Network, producer George Homsy put together a small sampler of some people and some viewpoints.

(Sound up, chanting crowds)

VOICE #1: I've got bills like everybody else. (Chainsaw sound) Can't pay 'em if you don't work. If you shut everybody down, it's gonna have a big impact on people more'n they think it's gonna be. It ? ? ? ? how our jobs gonna affect everybody, and people in the stores and everything. It's really gonna put a hurt on people now, and I don't think they understand that. ? ? figure out some way to protest.

VOICE #2: It's too bad that my relatives can't be here to testify for themselves. The birds can't be here to let you know their fear and their pain. None of the animals can be here to testify of their fear and pain, losing their shelter. You think about that. The wildlife can't lobby in Washington, DC. They can't do those things, they don't have a voice.

(Sound of protesters; police: "I'll give you guys exactly five minutes. Anybody that is not willing to go into custody step aside, otherwise we'll just start handcuffing. Five minutes.")

VOICE #3 : When the agenda gets to the point where the lies are starting to be believed all across America, and the people are starting to question, who are these maniacs in the Pacific Northwest who are cutting down these trees -- that's crazy. (Crowd: "Yeah!") Making a statement publicly, so what if the Pacific Northwest loses three or four thousand jobs? The owl is more important. That's crazy! (Crowd: "Yeah!) Stating that owls can only exist in old growth is what? (Crowd: "Crazy!") You guys are catching on. There's another one too.

VOICE #4: Those kinds of choices -- fisheries, owls, and so on -- those are "Sophie's Choices." Those are all lose-lose choices.

VOICE #5: Twenty years ago they tried to have this place called the Wild Rivers. And they get so it was like a park and that didn't work so they tried another thing, and that didn't work, so then they got the spotted owl. So, we knew it was coming.

VOICE #6 (film voiceover): Altogether, private forest owners here in Washington plant more than 35 million trees a year. And 85% percent of the trees survive. So even after normal thinning, the harvested forest will be entirely replaced. (Voices: "Look at that view." "Aw, man, some of us are working too hard to look.") Will we ever run out of trees? Not a chance. Not here in Washington. Not on private forest land. (Voices: "You think we have enough seedlings for this part?" fade out)

VOICE #7: And no, there is no shortage of Northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. There are more out there, and you guys, I've followed this for a long time. There are more out there than anyone has ever dreamed.

CURWOOD: Oh, yes, and one other voice. (Sound of spotted owls) The Northern spotted owl. And for this week, that's Living on Earth.

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(Theme music up and under)

CURWOOD: Peter Thomson edits our show, Deborah Stavro directs. Our coordinating producer is George Homsy. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Lucia Small, Chris Page, Reyna Lounsbury, Tom Verde and Colleen Singer Cox. Our engineer is Laurie Azaria, with help from Jennifer Loeb and Peter Lydotes. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon. Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

(Music up and under funding credits)


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