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Bush Would Seize Reins on Lands Policy

by Joel Connelly, P-I National Correspondent
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 26, 2000

AUSTIN, Texas-Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, in environmental stands that set him far apart from opponent Al Gore, is promising to cut more trees, abandon talk of breaching dams and work closely with traditional local power structures.

The Texas governor is unsure whether he can "unscramble the egg" on President Clinton's designation of national monuments, but charges that the president has "virtually shut down the ability of a lot of people to use lands."

Bush, who is targeting the Northwest in his campaign, elaborated on his views late last week in a wide-ranging interview with a small group of reporters.

The main thrust was that Bush promises sweeping changes in the Clinton administration's pro-preservation policies, particularly in national forest lands of the mountains of Washington and Oregon.

He promised to reverse, if possible, Clinton's initiative that would ban road construction on 43 million acres of national forests, more than one-fifth of the nation's federally owned forests.

"We're going to look at a reasonable amount of board-feet to be harvested out of Northwestern timberlands," Bush said. "It's good for America. It's good for our economy. It happens to be good for the local economy as well."

On other issues:

Arctic Refuge: Bush reiterated his call to let oil and gas companies conduct exploratory drilling on the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Gore has opposed drilling, as have conservationists and some indigenous groups, fearing it would disrupt calving of the giant Porcupine caribou herd.

National monuments: Bush said he favors preserving "some of the pristine land" in the West, but said that Clinton "just unilaterally acts" without approval from Congress or localities.

"I don't know the extent to which the president can unscramble the egg,"

Bush said when asked what he would do about newly designated national monuments. He promised to "work closely with the Senate and Congress and local authorities" on management decisions.

Gore recently announced and acclaimed the Hanford Reach National Monument, calling the free-flowing stretch of Columbia River "one of our greatest national treasures."

Snake River dams: While the Clinton administration has made no recommendation, Bush charged that it is bent on removing four dams from the lower Snake River as a means of restoring the river's decimated runs of wild salmon.

"The administration wants to breach the dams and the vice president won't tell us what his view is," Bush said. He argued that, "There can be a proper balance with the environment and with a way of life.

"My point is we can have both salmon runs and hydroelectric energy by having salmon-friendly turbines," Bush said.

Gore has refused to rule out any option, but has called for a regional salmon summit that would "bring together all interested parties to find a real solution." It would be patterned after Clinton's 1993 forest summit in Portland, which led to a plan that has largely preserved the Northwest's remaining old growth forests.

In his interview, however, Bush decried results of the timber summit. "This is a president who went out to the Northwest and declared there was going to be a combination of environmental concerns and timber, which would go hand in hand," he said.

Instead, there was "a major reduction in the amount of board feet that we harvest" which hurt timber-dependent communities, Bush said. Gore has strongly supported the roadless initiative, and used his 1992 book, "Earth in the Balance," to call for a halt to clearcutting ancient forests in the Northwest.

During the 1980s, a record level of 4 billion board-feet of timber was cut each year from the national forests of the Pacific Northwest, with more than 60,000 acres of old growth forests clearcut each year. In 1992, when Bush's father was president, about 2.14 billion board-feet were cut from the national forests of Oregon and Washington.

But the cutting was virtually halted after U.S. District Judge William Dwyer ruled that the Forest Service had not planned for protection of the northern spotted owl, an endangered species that inhabits ancient forests.

The Clinton administration's forest plan, which covers 24 million acres of Northwest forests, promised "a predictable and sustainable level of timber sales" of 1.2 billion board-feet annually.

The timber cut in 1999, however, was only 569 million board-feet. The Gifford Pinchot National Forest in southwest Washington, once devoted largely to logging, now has 80 percent of its land set aside from cutting.

Defending the Snake River dams, former oilman Bush said the United States is in "an energy crunch" caused by dependence on foreign oil.

"By breaching the dams we would be reducing that amount of domestic (energy) supply, making us more dependent on foreign sources of energy."

That view is disputed by Pat Ford, head of the regional conservation group Save Our Wild Salmon.

"The four Snake River dams contribute just 4 percent of the Northwest's total electrical generation," said Ford. He said studies have found that conservation and renewable-energy sources can replace kilowatts generated by the dams.

In his interview, Bush echoed many of the views of GOP Sen. Slade Gorton, who has argued that the Clinton administration's forest policies have had a "devastating effect" on Washington's timber towns.

Bush said the reduction in timber harvest is "affecting the quality of life."

Joel Connelly
Bush Would Seize Reins on Lands Policy
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 26, 2000

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