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President pledges to break the gridlock.

For one day in April, America's leaders gave their undivided attention to the question of what the country's old-growth forestry policy should be. President Clinton has directed his cabinet to draft a policy by early June.

On June 2, a "solution" to the old growth forestry issue is expected to be presented to President Bill Clinton to "break the gridlock" of lawsuits and political squabbling which has dramatically reduced federal timber sales and fueled soaring lumber prices while devastating logging-dependent communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. The policy will test the president's resolve to strike a balance between the environment and timber harvesting of old growth forests.

The president's directive came out of the April 2 Northwest Forestry Conference in Portland, Ore. Clinton mandated that the plan be "scientifically sound, ecologically credible and legally responsible," and that it ensure "predictable and sustainable levels of harvest."

Judging from themes and questions asked by Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and cabinet members -- including Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Commerce Secretary Ron Brown -- possible ingredients to the final policy may include:

* setting aside major areas of old growth forests from logging, but allowing limited "light touch" logging to continue;

* implementation of eco-system managed forests and creation of complex habitats capable of supporting spotted owls and other species;

* curtailment of raw log exports from private lands via tax incentives or disincentives;

* implementing worker retraining for displaced loggers and community development programs for logging-dependent areas;

* and, developing alternative uses of forests not related to logging per se.

The president gave his cabinet 60 days as of April 2, to come up with a plan to resolve this issue. While not stated publicly, many of the panelists said they felt the issue would need to be resolved legislatively, which could bring the Pacific Northwest forest battle to Capitol Hill.

While the specifics of Clinton's plan are still being ironed out, industry, labor and environmental groups vowed to continue lobbying the government to make sure their viewpoints are considered. Working groups have been set up and are progressing on a plan, said Jess Sarmiento, a White House press secretary.

"You want us to break the paralysis of the situation and I am committed to working together to solve this problem," Clinton said. "Whatever plan we come up with, we can't possibly do any worse than if we just stayed this way."

Nine hours and 51 panelists

The conference was divided into three panel discussions: "Who is Affected and How?" "Ecological and Economic Assessments;" and "Where Do We Go From Here?" In all, 51 panelists, including representatives of industry and environmental groups, voiced their viewpoints.

Asking questions and taking notes, Clinton and the other officials sat side-by-side around a 10-foot by 24-foot oblong conference table and rubbed elbows with the people who have a stake in the outcome of these deliberations. Loggers, industry leaders, environmentalists, Native Americans, silviculturalists -- all were given a chance to present their side of this polarized issue.

What Clinton heard were stories of economic hardship and frustration: workers who lost their jobs, their homes and their dignity. He heard about an environment that has seen its rivers, its old growth forests, its plant and animal life, dwindle. Both sides offered possible solutions and seemed to find some middle ground in the idea of eco-system managed forests, the catch phrase of the conference.

"I tell you, I will never forget what I've heard today -- the stories, the pictures, the passions from all of you," Clinton said in his closing remarks.

Most panelists said they were cautiously optimistic that the various branches of government would work together to resolve this conflict, rather than fight against themselves and intensify the conflict. Clinton said he hoped so, as well.

"For too long, the national government has done more to confuse the issues than to clarify them," Clinton said. "In the absence of real leadership, at least six different federal agencies have hooked their horses to different sides of the cart, and then they've wondered why the cart wouldn't move forward. To make things worse, the rhetoric from Washington has often been exaggerated and has exacerbated the tensions between those who speak about the economy and those who speak about the environment."

Ken Marson, of Marson & Marson Lumber in Portland, said, "There has to be a compromise. I would be the first person out there to try to stop people from destroying the forest out my back window. But lumber is the most compatible material with our environment and housing is an essential component of economic growth, so there has to be compromise."

However, some environmentalists bristled at the idea of a compromise that would include cutting old growth forests. Andy Kerr, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, told Clinton he vehemently opposes a compromise solution. "The time has passed for compromise.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:President Bill Clinton; forest policy
Author:Adams, Larry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:May 1, 1993
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