WASHINGTON — LAST week, Republicans in Congress wanted to take his job away. Now, the timber industry wants a judge to throw him in jail.
Assistant Agriculture Secretary James Lyons is finding it tough going as President Clinton's point man in a seemingly endless legal and political battle over logging old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.
''The Clinton administration is refusing to obey the law,'' says Chris West, vice president of the industry's Northwest Forestry Association. ''Our goal isn't to put anybody in jail. All we want is for these timber sales to be released.''
Nevertheless, the Northwest Forest Resource Council filed papers in a federal court in Eugene, Ore., last week asking that Mr. Lyons be found in contempt and imprisoned for his refusal to allow some logging in the region.
The case involves parts of national forests in Oregon and Washington that were sold for harvest but never turned over to the bidding logging companies.
The Forest Service held up the timber sales after environmental concerns were raised with the listing of the northern spotted owl as a threatened species in 1990.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge in Eugene ruled that much of the logging should go forward under legislation Mr. Clinton signed in July at the urging of Western Republicans, and over the objections of conservationists.
The administration has not formally responded to US District Judge Michael Hogan's ruling that the timber be released. Environmental lawyers say the ruling places no deadline for releasing the timber sales. A Justice Department lawyer told the timber industry earlier this month that the government was taking steps to release the timber for logging.
The industry wants the judge to find Lyons in contempt and fine him $50,000 a day for a week, with the fines doubling each day after that until the logging begins.
In addition to Lyons, the industry singled out Tom Tuchmann, who oversees Clinton's Northwest forest policy from the Office of Forestry and Economic Development in Portland.
Lyons and Mr. Tuchmann were not available for comment on Tuesday.
Lyons long has been a target of criticism from the timber industry. Last week, several Western Republicans succeeded in amending a spending bill before Congress to delete money for his job.