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Conflict Looms Over Timber

by Robert McClure
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 3, 2004

Pending changes to the federal plan on logging
in the Northwest's national forests are expected to draw lawsuits

It's a new year and new battles are on the horizon between environmentalists and the Bush administration over federal forests in the Pacific Northwest -- but the theme is continuing conflict.

Central to the clash are changes the Bush administration is making this year in the Northwest Forest Plan, the document hammered out under President Clinton in 1994 to end the standoff over logging federal old-growth forests.

Government officials are expected this month and next to finalize rule changes that will make it easier to carry out timber sales without explicitly protecting salmon, and without extensive surveys to discover whether logging would endanger more than 300 hard-to-find slugs, snails, lichens and other species.

Later in the year, officials are expected to finalize reviews of whether the spotted owl and another rare bird, the marbled murrelet, should continue to be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

"It's an ugly Christmas and early New Year's list out there that seems to be on the horizon from the Bush administration, and I doubt that I know of everything that's on deck," said Bill Arthur, the Sierra Club's Seattle-based deputy national field director.

"It's our sense that the Bush administration, knowing that 2004 is upon them, is trying to get as many things out the door as they can to weaken the environmental agenda, but buy some distance in time between when they do the deed and Nov. 2," Election Day.

Bush administration officials, though, point out that while the Northwest Forest Plan has helped protect what remains of old-growth forests and spotted owls, it hasn't accomplished another of its goals: a steady -- albeit reduced -- stream of timber from parts of national forests that are considered OK to log.

More than four-fifths of the 24 million acres in Northwest national forests are off-limits to timbering, they point out. The changes they propose would affect only the remainder.

"We've met the protection pieces of the Northwest Forest Plan, but the production piece we've never been able to meet. It was a compromise plan," said Rex Holloway, a Forest Service spokesman.

Holloway previously was in charge of timber sales for a national forest unit on the Olympic Peninsula at the height of the old-growth cutting in the late 1980s and early '90s.

Regarding the forthcoming legal challenges by environmentalists, he said: "I look at where we were 10 years ago even, and I look at how much of the old-growth is being set aside and I'm just scratching my head. ... It was determined that we needed to make significant changes, and we did that."

The timber industry is happy to be getting some consideration from the Bush administration but isn't getting its hopes up. Environmentalists are prolific filers of lawsuits, they point out.

"Ultimately, I am hopeful that we will see better implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, but this next year is going to be a lot of litigation, in my view," said Chris West, vice president of the Portland-based American Forest Resource Council.

Robert McClure
Conflict Looms Over Timber
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 3, 2004

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