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The President steps in.

Grueling preparations and a media onslaught helped set the scene for Mr. Clinton's thumbs-up effort to break the Northwest's forest impasse.

At the Pacific Northwest Forest Conference on April 2 in Portland, Oregon, President Bill Clinton demonstrated a keen sense of the conflicting values that have resulted in deeply entrenched positions and heightened anxieties over the region's future. That both sides in this heated standoff emerged from the eight-hour conference feeling that their points were well made, and heard, is a tribute to the President and to his team.

Clinton showed extraordinary personal sympathy for the plight of families and communities dependent on the production of timber. He also made it clear that the protection of old-growth forest ecosystems would provide the basis for federal forest policy in the region.

After a full day of actively directing open discussions with 51 participants and eight senior Administration officials, the President announced a 60-day deadline by which his Cabinet would craft a plan to break the Pacific Northwest's forest impasse. He said that his goal was to develop a policy based on principles that would "produce a predictable and sustainable level of timber sales and non-timber resources that will not degrade or destroy our forest environment."

When the health of the forest could not be assured after logging, he would instead seek "to offer new economic opportunities for year-round, high-wage, high-skill jobs." Other guiding principles for the forest plan, he said, are that it be "scientifically sound, ecologically credible, and legally responsible."

The President, who has repeatedly said that he cannot stop change, did much to steer the conference discussions toward what might come next. He showed a strong interest in how the government might encourage more economic and ecological benefits from second-growth forests on public and private lands, and in the creative use of technology to get more and different products from the forests.

The Portland Oregonian, in its post-conference editorial, reflected the widespread sentiment that government had successfully come to the people. "A good beginning doesn't assure success . . . But a good start is a good omen."

By bringing to the conference table Vice President Al Gore, the Secretaries of Agriculture, Interior, Labor, and Commerce, plus the EPA Administrator, the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and his Science and Technology Advisor, the President demonstrated his resolve for developing a broad-based and coordinated federal policy.

The interagency conflicts he found on this matter left him "mortified," he said. The first thing that would have to happen was for the government to develop one policy. In turn, the President challenged participants to see the conference as the beginning of a new process of working with each other at the table in dialogue, rather than at the courthouse in legal confrontation.

Well before the conference began, it was clear that the "summit"--which had its genesis as a campaign pledge in a timber worker's backyard during the '92 presidential campaign--was shaping up as a high-profile domestic policy matter as well as a pivotal event in developing new forest conservation policy.

During the transition period, each bit of forest-summit speculation and rumor was tracked down in a flurry both inside the Washington Beltway and in the Pacific Northwest--lest anyone lose precious ground in the battle to influence the President. The new Administration, in turn, lost no time in laying the groundwork for success. Fifteen hundred letters requesting advice on the policy process, including the summit, were sent to individuals, interest groups, state officials, and members of Congress. The January 22 comment deadline was just two days after the President's inauguration.

What most had been calling a forest or timber summit would be a "conference" in which top Administration officials would listen to the concerns and recommendations of individuals, interest-group advocates, and experts as the first step in a process of laying out a prescription for breaking old-growth forest gridlock.

If some in the national media saw Portland as just one more story on the way to Vancouver, where Mr. Clinton would meet with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, forest partisans of every stripe saw opportunities to reach the media and to vie for the President's attention as never before.

Briefing books, press conferences, aerial forest tours, huge public rallies, and even forest-food feeds were organized to attract and influence the press and VIPs. Each event and initiative seemed matched by one from the other side.

Lighthawk pilots flew reporters over clearcuts to present the environmental perspective. The Oregon Forest Resources Institute provided helicopter tours from downtown Portland to a family-owned mill in Molalla and on to the "working forest" of the Clackamas District of the Mt. Hood National Forest. A reporter concerned about special-interest freebies and favoritism need only sign up for both.

The selection of conference participants wasn't completed until three days before it began, causing some to wonder just how together this event would be. Loggers and mill owners, environmentalists, scientists, a small-town mayor, an archbishop, and seven people connected with fishing and fisheries were among those selected. John Gordon, formerly a professor at Oregon State and now dean of the Yale School of Forestry, was the only participant invited from outside the region.

Zane Smith, Pacific representative for AMERICAN FORESTS, quite likely would have been a participant, but during the selection process was touring a Siberian forest where he could not be reached. Upon his return he was invited to be a conference observer, along with some 250 others including national environmental, industry, and labor leaders, area governors, and the Chief of the Forest Service.

From the outset, the tone of the conference was set by the President--not the press, not the interest groups. Though powerful messages were presented, there was a lack of strident comments.

"It was absolutely remarkable," reported Smith. "The President sat down and stayed there. He personally ran the entire meeting."

Notably different from congressional or agency hearings, the meeting had no timeclock, stenographer, or bank of staffers whispering messages and handing questions to their bosses. Distractions were minimized. Listening and hearing were the order of the day.

First were the personal stories of people and communities hit hard by the loss of timber-related jobs. Difficult and tragic times were described as commonplace for thousands in the region: People are homeless, hiding out in cars or tents, fearing their children might be taken from them; alcoholism and suicides are on the increase.

A baby had recently been born dead for the lack of food for its mother, reported Phyllis Strauger, mayor of Hoquiam, a town of 8,900 near Aberdeen on the Washington coast. The raw hurt of a recent plant closing that put 650 people out of work and chopped $700,000 from the tax base was on Strauger's face and in her voice. It was the first time in her life she had fired anyone.

"This conference comes too late for my city," said Strauger. Unemployment is 19 percent and climbing. Ninety-two percent of kindergarten children are on free and reduced lunches. "I'm a child of the Depression," she said. "I've had all the WPA programs I want. Building picnic tables and trails is not acceptable. We're a proud people."

Innkeeper Patricia Lee spoke of intense community polarization around this issue and of threats to her business because of her promotion of environmental values. Education is key, she said. "To accept change, people need to understand why change has come about. We need to teach that fish and wildlife, timber and water quality, are byproducts of a healthy forest."

Bill Arthur, director of the Sierra Club's Seattle office, summed up the position of many: "We have cut our way west. . . . We are now at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and the timber frontier is over." The Northwest is still a great place to grow trees, he acknowledged, "But the future of the timber industry in the Northwest must rely on the |trees~ we grow, not the ones we have left that we found here."

To industry and labor representatives, the biggest policy problem appeared to be a lack of predictable timber supply. John Hampton's lumber company in Portland is 70 percent dependent on federal lands for second-growth logs, yet hasn't bought a federal timber sale for three years. "We're getting swept up in the trash bin in the old-growth argument," said Hampton, who is chairman of the Northwest Forest Resources Council.

As successful as his company is in converting its operations to second-growth, Hampton insisted that it is not possible to make a total transition to second-growth in the short term. "There is no way to stop cutting old-growth without creating a huge vacuum that private timber suppliers cannot fill. We cannot fill the nation's building-material needs."

But to fisherman Nat Bingham, cutting more old-growth means more roads, more stream siltation, more loss of spawning grounds, and the loss of more fishery-related jobs. "There is another industry dependent on a healthy forest: the salmon-fishing industry."

Meca Wawona, whose Ukiah, California, company specializes in forest and salmon-habitat restoration, is concerned about the damage to forests from corporate logging of second-growth forests. Ninety percent of the forest cover is removed in "quick and dirty" logging operations from some private forests in her area.

Few groups like hers are helping small landowners to make second-growth forestry sustainable. As long as wood is priced so low, they can't afford the labor-intensive costs of properly caring for these forests. She doesn't see things changing as long as forests are viewed, and abused, as mere fiber factories.

Two weeks prior to the conference, a team of 24 government scientists released a report identifying 482 species--in addition to the northern spotted owl--that are dependent upon old-growth forests. The report concluded that significant amounts of forest would need to be protected if these species are to survive.

To many, the findings were another strong indication that single-species management in such complex ecosystems may fast be becoming obsolete and ineffective.

To John Gordon, the concepts of ecosystem management "allow us to do many things at the same time, rather than saving one or two species at a time, and have the potential to remedy this old-growth deficit."

With federal lands, including substantial reserves, providing the backbone of a plan, Gordon sees "hope for a reduced, but substantial, sustained timber harvest along with retention of wildlife and old-growth values."

"New forestry," according to Jerry Franklin, the scientist who pioneered it, blends traditional forestry with an understanding of natural forest ecosystems. With it managers can create more structurally diverse forest stands with the goal of speeding up the time it takes the forest to grow spotted-owl habitat, for example.

Because new forestry is experimental, its use requires much more monitoring than traditional forestry and could create numerous jobs in rural areas. Franklin strongly cautioned that "growing old-growth is a challenge for the next century." Due to its complexity, we do not know how to grow it today.

Forest economics may be as complex as forest ecology--as witness a sociologist's assessment that rural, forest-dependent communities face persistent poverty as severe as that of inner cities. Louise Fortmann's research shows that "large timber harvests will not automatically resolve the poverty problem," at least not without significant local reinvestment of profits.

Research has also convinced her that such poverty can be broken only when forest communities take responsibility for their futures through locally based planning efforts that make ecological and economic sense. Developing community goals requires a lot of time and willingness to trust, she emphasized.

The President listened to an enthusiastic description of how more than 300 small wood-products manufacturers on Washington's Olympic Peninsula shared marketing, purchasing, and other resources through a non-profit network called Woodnet. And he couldn't help but share his interest: "It is something I wouldn't dismiss lightly as a potential for a lot of these smaller communities," he asserted.

He then pushed on for examples of creative job placement and retraining efforts, of sophisticated approaches to obtaining new products and jobs from reduced supplies of raw resources, and for suggestions about forest-restoration jobs.

Vice President Gore, in an exchange with Weyerhaeuser Company's executive vice president Charles Bingham, probed the relationship of tax policy to the export of logs.

A recurring theme throughout the Conference was the need to build ecosystem management for forests and fisheries on a foundation of watershed understanding and management. This is likely to be an early and prominent component of any ecosystem-management regime.

Jack Ward Thomas, chief research biologist for the U.S. Forest Service and the leader of a scientific team that had already been at work on recommendations for the President's policy team, asked for clarity from the President. Did we already have, in effect, a policy of biodiversity on public lands? If so, "state it as an objective for management, and not as a constraint," he said.

Thomas also firmly supported ecosystem management as a new way of managing natural resources. He cautioned, however, that the approach "is not going to be simple, and it's not going to be cheap."

In closing the Forest Conference, President Clinton urged participants to "find common ground. . . . I don't want this situation to go back to posturing, to positioning. . . . I hope we can stay in the conference room and out of the courtroom."

But keeping the parties talking will be no small challenge. And since it was the hands-on attention of the Administration and the President that got them to the table in the first place, it is unclear whether anything less will keep them there.

The chances for a workable solution seem greater with a long-term process that encourages and rewards cooperative action. Should the policy be too prescriptive, it will likely require more arbitration and intervention from policymakers than even this Administration has patience for.

Five weeks after the Conference, the White House issued a detailed directive to the three working groups established to develop and evaluate its policy options. The Labor and Community Assistance group was to address economic and community issues. The Agency Coordination group was charged with improving coordination among federal and state agencies in the region.

The Ecosystem Management Assessment group was "to identify management alternatives that attain the greatest economic and social contribution from the forests of the region" under existing laws and regulations, and using the best science available. The alter-natives are to ensure a medium to very high probability of survival of species associated with old-growth forests.

The President successfully gathered a broadly representative group of people to help launch his Administration along the path toward a new forest policy. In listening so well to so many--and by so directly and indirectly including the media--the Administration has also helped to better inform millions of people about the difficult economic and ecological issues of the forests.

Not all of the next difficult steps will be the President's. It may be very difficult for so many articulate and committed partisans to effectively shift their approaches to working with the Administration and other interest groups.

If a good portion of the 51 people Clinton met with in Portland fail to support his new plan, the stalemate could very well continue. However, the President has changed the nature of the debate--and the stakes. Those who do not understand that, and who continue their pre-conference strategies and tone, may be relegated to the sidelines of the resolution of the issue. All would be wise to remember Clinton's concluding remarks: "We will insist on collaboration, not confrontation."

Dan Smith is the director of communications for AMERICAN FORESTS.
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Title Annotation:Lookout; Pacific Northwest Forest Conference; US Pres Bill Clinton
Author:Smith, Dan
Publication:American Forests
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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