Clinton Would Reduce Logging in Northwest

POST TIMBER SUMMIT

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WHEN he concluded his one-day tutorial on Pacific Northwest forests three months ago, President Clinton promised ``a plan to end this stalemate'' over logging and endangered species. But he also said it probably wouldn't make anybody - the timber industry or environmentalists - very happy.

This is the one sure conclusion to be reached following the administration's announcement yesterday covering nearly 9 million acres of federal farm lands in Oregon, Washington, and northern California. There are no enthusiastic supporters among private interests or in Congress, and the plan is likely to be the focus of a continuing political struggle.

The major elements of the Clinton solution to one of the country's major natural-resource problems are these:

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* Large forest reserves based on watersheds would be established to protect the northern spotted owl and other dwindling species, such as the marbled murrelet (a shore bird) and salmon.

* Within these reserves, some salvage logging and thinning would be allowed - as long as scientists determine that it is not harmful to the habitat of endangered species.

* About $1.3 billion would be provided to timber-dependent communities for economic development and job training. This would include spending for habitat restoration.

Overall, the plan would reduce logging in the Northwest to about 1.2 billion board feet a year, well below the historic 1980s level of 4 billion board feet.

The reaction among the timber industry, community groups, and environmentalists to the Clinton plan - details of which have leaked out in recent days - ranges from muted to extremely harsh.

``Anything under 3 billion board feet would create serious economic dislocation,'' said Roger Glunt, president of the National Association of Home Builders. ``This issue is of critical importance not only to the forest industry and the thousands of working men and women whose livelihoods depend on that industry, but for tens of thousands of Americans trying to qualify for homeownership.''

Jackie Lange, spokeswoman of the Oregon Lands Coalition, a grass-roots group, calls it a real blow. ``We believed Bill Clinton when he sat there on April 2 and told us he wanted a solution for people and the forest,'' she said. ``The truth is: This is more radical than anything we had to fight off in Congress.''

On the other hand, environmentalists - who had wanted logging-free preserves in what they call ``ancient forests'' - worry about allowing tree-cutting in such areas.

``There's a great deal of concern about the impact this will have on critical habitat,'' said Rich Hoppe, spokesman of the Wilderness Society. In order to be truly sustainable, he added, timber harvest would have to drop below 1 billion board feet a year.

Environmentalists are also concerned about the ability of the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management - two agencies they blame for the current problems in federal forest management - to carry out the plan. This is true even though the Clinton administration is viewed as much more ``green'' than its predecessor. ``It comes down to a trust issue,'' Mr. Hoppe said.

On the most emotional subject here - timber-industry job losses due to environmental protection - estimates vary widely.

Government scientists who put together the options on which Mr. Clinton based his decision reportedly put the direct job loss at 5,700, or about 5 percent the 1992 level.

Sen. Slade Gorton (R) of Washington argues that the job-loss figure could be as high as 72,000. Clinton ``offered workers and families hope for their jobs and hope for the future,'' Mr. Gorton said in a Senate speech. ``Now those hopes are shattered.''

For their part, environmentalist have insisted all along that the severe impact logging has had on the environment means an inevitable reduction if the industry is to continue on a sustainable basis. Besides, they add, much (if not most) of the recent drop in timber jobs is due to mill automation and the export of raw logs.

The Clinton plan is far from the end of the political struggle over federal forest land in the Northwest, which has raged for more than a decade.

The Clinton administration still must win some measure of cooperation from Congress - if only on its proposal to spend money to lessen the regional economic impact.

It also must convince federal courts - which have halted timber sales in virtually all old-growth forests in the Northwest - that it is sufficiently protecting the habitat of species that have been listed under the Endangered Species Act. The controversial law allows for some economic consideration, but declares that science and the environment take precedence.

As part of his effort to sell the plan, Clinton dispatched Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to the region.

Clinton said his plan ``will strengthen the long-term environmental and economic health of the Pacific Northwest and California.'' He called it an ``innovative approach to forest management'' that will result in ``predictable and sustainable'' levels of timber sales.

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