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

Forest Plan Reax

Air Date: Week of

Alan Siporin of member station KLCC reports on the forest plan recently unveiled by the Clinton Administration. As predicted, the President's plan angered most interested parties when it was announced. But after time to reflect, some environmentalists see the potential for positive results.


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

Six months into his administration, Bill Clinton is simultaneously tackling two of the most daunting environmental issues facing the nation. Later in the show, we'll hear how people are responding to the Administration's call for the reduction of pesticides on food crops. But first we turn to the Pacific Northwest. Recently, the President followed up on his campaign promise to arbitrate the conflict between tree cutters and conservationists. President Clinton's solution would permit over a billion board feet of timber to be harvested every year; curtail, but still allow logging in old growth forests; and allocate over a billion dollars for the economic redevelopment of the Pacific Northwest as it turns away from timber. Early reactions to the proposal were swift and damning. Loggers claimed thousands of jobs would be lost, and environmentalists called the plan dangerous to the ecosystem. But once the first flurry of criticism died down, reporter Alan Siporin of member station KLCC found some environmentalists who think the President's plan, while far from perfect, is a good start.

SIPORIN: The specifics of the President's plan apparently will only emerge over time. Enough is known, though, such as some logging in ancient forest reserves, to raise concern among virtually every environmental group in the region. Still, environmentalists say the plan has its merits. They say the Administration has really done its scientific homework, and has grounded the plan in science. Bob Doppelt is the executive director of the Pacific Rivers Council.

DOPPELT: This is state-of-the-art science. And we've had this science in the closet, so to speak, for five or ten years, and the politicians and industry and others have kept it out of the land-management field, so I think this is a great step forward to at least announce that that's really there and it should be used.

SIPORIN: Clinton's plan recognizes riparian zones, that is, stream-site areas, as crucial, and the plan would identify and protect key watersheds that are essential to the health of salmon and other fish, strategies the Pacific Rivers Council has been advocating for a long time. But Doppelt says the plan falls short because it doesn't protect the forests in the areas that feed the streams. He says that in order to placate Northwest politicians and timber worker concerns the Administration backed off its own scientific conclusions.

DOPPELT: For example, the old-growth reserves are not clearly defined and protected, they're not inviolate. We flatly oppose new roads in roadless areas and these old-growth reserves and in fact the key watersheds are protected through riparian protections, which is a great step forward, broad new riparian protections, but they're not protected at the watershed level. And I think ultimately that may come back to haunt us, so we have troubles with that.

SIPORIN: Doppelt says he also has problems with New Forestry, a concept embraced by the Clinton Administration. New Forestry recommends selective logging that theoretically would not disturb the ecosystem. Nearly every environmental organization has misgivings about New Forestry though. Julie Norman is president of the group Headwaters.

NORMAN: They need to protect as much of the overstory, that is, the larger trees, as possible in all cases because that is so scarce, but the details of how these new kinds of forestry will be prescribed in a timber sale is of great concern to us. The new forestry is a grab bag, that a lot of people have defined in different ways and we don't really know what that means.

SIPORIN: But what is known is that ten large tracts of ancient forest, some as big as 380 thousand acres, will be set aside for experimentation. Conservationists worry that the ecology can't afford a failed experiment. But Julie Norman says the Clinton plan offers a lot of good, too. She agrees with Doppelt that the scientific foundation of the plan will benefit the environment. And she says the money coming in for retraining, as well as a predictable supply of timber, will help forest industry workers. Clearly, a number of good points in the plan have been lost in the avalanche of criticism from both sides. Bob Frymark, director of the Wilderness Society, says a lot of progress has been made.

FRYMARK: The Clinton Administration has done more in the last three months than the past twelve years that his predecessors had, involved in this issue; in fact his predecessors did more to create the crisis and theproblems than work toward solutions on this and so the Clinton Administration deserves a lot of credit for trying to come out with some sort of fair resolution to the controversy.

SIPORIN: But like all the other environmental activists, Frymark has problems with the plan. Perhaps the most universal concern with the Clinton proposal is with the implementation. Environmentalists worry that the agencies responsible for the Federal forests, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in particular, could doom any plan to failure. As Bob Doppelt puts it, these are entrenched bureaucrats who have repeatedly violated the law. But the roots of the ancient forest crisis appear to run much deeper than policy and implementation. Most environmentalists believe the attitude of previous Administrations and most of the current Northwest congressional delegation have have misled workers into thinking the ecosystem can support a continued high level of timber harvest. Some environmentalists suggest that efforts by President Clinton to change that message may be the most important part of his forest initiative. Bob Doppelt says the President may be the bearer of bad news, but it's news that needs to be heard.

DOPPELT: They are taking the great political risk, but the moral stance, to more or less tell the truth. And I think that's what we've really gotten out of this Administration, a willingness to stand up there in front of the American people for the first time in years and tell the truth about the status of the health of the ecosystems, about what's needed to maintain and protect the ecosystems, let alone restore the ecosystems. And that's what we're really getting and when you begin with the position of telling the truth, it's painful.

SIPORIN: Environmentalists say they'll be looking carefully at the details as the information emerges. They still hope to influence the plant's implementation. If it isn't written on paper, it's certainly not written in stone. For Living on Earth, this is Alan Siporin in Eugene.



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