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The politics of old-growth.

The old-growth issue surfaced in 1991 with an intensity far beyond that of 1990. This dismayed some who thought the issue could be resolved without congressional action. Others saw such action as inevitable.

A number of factors heightened the sense of urgency this year and brought about a growing convergence of views on how the issue might be resolved. AFA's general strategy over the past two years has been to develop and promote legislative approaches, while holding to our principles for the protection and management of old-growth ecosystems.


Last year, opposing sides on the issue were extremely polarized and unwilling to negotiate any type of resolution. Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana introduced the Ancient Forest Protection Act early in 1990, setting out the environmental community's legislative proposals. The Jontz bill established a process for Congress to designate lands for permanent protection as ancient forest reserves.

The forest industry chose not to propose legislation in 1990 focusing specifically on the old-growth issue. Industry was not ready to acknowledge the need for old-growth reserves or new forest-management direction from Congress. Instead, it proposed legislation to amend the national forest planning process in order to provide more certainty that forest plans would in fact be implemented. This was the National Forest Plan Implementation Act sponsored by Senator Mark Hatfield and Representative Les AuCoin, both of Oregon.

AFA was uncomfortable with the Jontz bill, which was highly critical of professional forest-resource managers and minimized the role of the federal land-management agencies in designating old-growth reserves.

But we also recognized that the bill's 125 co-sponsors gave it substantial political clout and that Congress was becoming intent on resolving the issue. At the same time, the legal tangle in the Pacific Northwest forests was imposing burdens on forest-dependent communities, and the compromise struck in the previous year's Interior Appropriation's bill was coming to a close. We felt that the status quo wouldn't hold much longer.

Because we couldn't get the opposing sides to talk, we decided to develop our own approach to the issue, based on AFA's historic reliance on intelligent, science-based management.

We conferred with a broad range of experts on the issue and put together a set of principles for an old-growth resolution and a legislative framework to achieve that end. AFA Executive Vice President Neil Sampson presented our ideas in May 1990 testimony before three House subcommittees. In that testimony he called on Congress to direct the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to identify areas where old-growth forests still exist and establish plans to manage those areas, along with associated lands essential to the long-term maintenance of viable old-growth ecosystems.

Congressman Bruce Vento of Minnesota, who chairs the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, picked up our legislative framework, filled in some of the details with the help of Forest Service and BLM staff, and introduced the Ancient Forest Act in July 1990. The Vento bill proposes to create a 6.3-million-acre ancient forest reserve, set a substantially reduced annual timber sale level of 3 billion board-feet during a three-year interim study period, direct the Forest Service and BLM to manage old-growth outside the reserves under New Forestry principles, and provide economic assistance to affected workers and communities.

Although AFA didn't agree with everything in Vento's bill-such as the proposed size of the reserve -we supported the bill as a constructive approach. Vento's bill drew immediate and intense fire from the forest industry, which had apparently decided to oppose all old-growth legislation. We too received substantial criticism for our support of the bill-which we had expected (see AMERICAN FORESTS, March/April 1991).

Congressman Vento's bill passed his subcommittee but ran into strong opposition in the full Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. Vento then withdrew the bill from consideration, he said, because of the "intransigence" of both the timber industry and environmental groups. In addition, the politics of an election year -which last year was-are not conducive to tackling hard, highly controversial issues such as old-growth.


The current year began with the release of new information on the amount of ecological old-growth remaining and its location in the Pacific Northwest (see "How Much Old-growth Is Left?" on page 46). In February, the Forest Service and Wilderness Society simultaneously announced results of old-growth inventories they conducted in the national forests of Oregon, Washington, and northern California.

Although the inventories provided the basis for a much better and common understanding of the old-growth situation-based on current data and maps from sophisticated geographic information system (GIS) technology-the results of the two surveys were substantially different. The Forest Service estimated the region has 4.3 million acres of ecological old-growth, but the Wilderness Society came up with an estimate of 3.8 million acres of ancient forest. This led to a confused and quite technical debate about whose definitions and numbers are better.

Meanwhile, two court cases struggled toward a resolution that had major ramifications. On February 26, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly announced his decision that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had "abused its discretion when it declined to designate critical habitat for the northern spotted owl" at the same time as it was listing the species as threatened. The agency complied with Judge Zilly's order on April 26 by proposing to designate 11.6 million acres of critical owl habitat (see "The Bird of Contention on page 28).

This four-million-acre increase over the Interagency Scientific Committee's previously proposed 7.7-million-acre system of Habitat Conservation Areas (HCAs) resulted in more significant estimates of economic impact than the HCAs would have. Fish and Wildlife Service Director john Turner responded, however, that the impacts of his agency's proposals might in fact be lower than that of the HCAs because activities such as timber harvesting may be permitted in critical habitat whereas they are not permitted in HCAs.

In the other court case, U.S. District Judge William Dwyer decided on March 7 that the Forest Service had not complied with the National Forest Management Act in developing its management strategy to protect the spotted owl. On May 23, after a series of evidentiary hearings on the case filed by the Seattle Audubon Society, he ordered the Forest Service to prepare a new owl protection plan, including an environmental impact statement, and to put it into effect by March 5, 1992. He also placed temporary injunctions on all new timber sales in 66,000 acres of spotted-owl habitat on 17 national forests in the Pacific Northwest until the new owl plan is completed.

His decision blocked 75 percent of the agency's timber sales in the region for fiscal years 1991 and 1992-more than two billion board feet. Although sufficient timber may be under contract to meet short-term demands in the region, Forest Service economist Richard Haynes testified at the evidentiary hearings that sooner or later-probably in 1992-log shortages will materialize, and the sweeping impacts of the decision could persist for 20 years.

The potential impacts of these two court decisions on the forest-based economy in the Pacific Northwest spurred congressional members from the region to action. Representative Norm Dicks of Washington lashed out at the administration for not having a scientifically and legally defensible approach for protecting old-growth forests and spotted owls. It's the failure of the administration to have such an approach that has thrown us into chaos," said Dicks, according to the RegisterGuard of Eugene, Oregon. "It is their approach and their strategy that is being rejected in the courts. "

Representative Sid Morrison of Washington, who has become a spokesperson for the Washington and Oregon delegations, responded to the court decisions by calling for a new initiative in Congress. "Probably very quickly we will be going to Congressman Vento, Congressman [George] Miller, and Congressman Jontz to say that we are working on this," Morrison told the RegisterGuard.


On the legislative front, 1991 opened with the reintroduction of the Jontz and Vento bills, slightly revised from last year. At an April 25 hearing on the two bills before the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, several signs emerged that substantial movement on the old-growth issue has begun.

First, Representative Morrison testified that most members of the Washington and Oregon delegation have agreed to work with the three House committees with jurisdiction over the old-growth issue "to design an approach which will meet everyone's needs." At Morrison's request, the leadership of the House Agriculture, Interior, and Merchant Marine committees, the chairmen of their respective subcommittees, and members of the Pacific Northwest delegation met and committed themselves to working diligently toward a resolution. They adopted the general framework of the Vento bill as a starting point for the discussions.

Second, the forest industry and related labor unions released a set of legislative proposals addressing the old-growth issue. These proposals were later to be the basis of the Forests and Families Protection Act introduced on May 23 by Representative Jerry Huckaby of Louisiana and Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon. The Huckaby-Packwood bill recognizes the need to establish old-growth reserves, but it also calls for means to provide greater certainty that future appeals and litigation will not tie up timber sales.

Although many environmental groups immediately attacked the industry proposals, some conservation groups welcomed them-both for their content and for the fact that the industry now appeared to be willing to work toward a resolution rather than just attacking other proposals.

AFA's Neil Sampson testified that several of the industry's ideas are consistent with our basic principles, although others violate those principles. "The fact that there are some areas of agreement," said Sampson, "suggests that there is a base upon which to build toward consensus. Such a base did not exist a year ago, and we welcome it." (See "Seeing Eye-to-eye on Old-growth" on page 20).

The Huckaby-packwood legislation was roundly condemned by Representative George Miller of California-the new chairman of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, filling the position vacated by retiring Morris Udall of Arizona-as providing less protection than currently exists for old-growth forests and spotted owls. His press release stated that rather than helping resolve the issues, the Huckaby-Packwood bill "ignores the process already underway [in the House] and only seeks to complicate our efforts to reach agreement. "

Congressman Peter Defazio of Oregon surprised many of his environmental constituents by announcing his support of the HuckabyPackwood bill. According to the Register-guard, Defazio said that although he has problems with the bill, "I just think it's time to emphasize where the agreements lie instead of the disagreements."

Finally, the administration showed signs at the April 25 hearing of becoming a more active participant in the old-growth issue. Although the Bush administration officially opposed the Jontz and Vento bills, BLM Director Cy Jamison and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Agriculture John Beuter stated that, unlike last year, they now believe a legislative solution to the controversy has become necessary.

In testimony at a May 29 hearing before the House Agriculture Forestry Subcommittee, Beuter discussed-for the first time--a set of principles that the administration would like to see in any old-growth solution.

In conclusion, the old-growth issue in 1991 has already moved far beyond where it was last year. New information, court decisions, and a willingness by the forest industry to address the issue have prompted action by members of Congress. The administration has also recognized the need for legislation and is beginning to float some ideas.

Most of the pieces for an old-growth legislative solution are on the table. There is substantial agreement on what certain parts of the solution should look like, but there is still significant disagreement over other parts. Members of the House are committed to a process in which they hope to assemble the pieces into a solution that will be politically acceptable and workable. We at AFA are doing our best to help by providing ideas about what the remaining pieces are and how to make them fit together.

As we go to press, we are awaiting new or revised legislative proposals promised by Representatives Peter Defazio and Les AuCoin of Oregon, the House Agriculture and Merchant Marine committees, and th House Interior Committee. The House leadership is strongly committed to forging and passing a legislative solution during this session of Congress-it is hoped this year rather than next year during the remainder of the session.

Other members of Congress, however, suggest that the old-growth issue is inextricably linked to highly controversial Endangered Species Act issues that are simply too complex to be resolved this year. Whether a solution is achieved in 1991 or not, Congress will certainly put a great deal of energy toward that end.

A number of conservation groups are urging President Bush-in this 100th anniversary year of the National Forest System-to commit his administration to working cooperatively with Congress on resolving the old-growth crisis. This would certainly boost the chances for a resolution this year.

There has been a convergence of ideas in 1991 about what legislative framework for resolving the old-growth controversy should include. Recent proposals by the forest industry and discussions in the House have adopted a structure based largely on Congressman Vento's bill. There remains, however, substantial disagreement about many details and the means to achieve the objectives identified in the framework.


* Old-growth forest reserves need to be established to protect ecological values and old-growth-dependent species on national forests and BLM lands in the Pacific Northwest.

* A three-to-five year interim program should be established identifying initial old-growth areas based on the recommendations of the Interagency Scientific Committee, setting achievable timber-harvest levels consistent with a strategy to protect old-growth, and providing time for Congress and the administration to define a long-term program for the management of old-growth and surrounding forests.

* A long-term program must be established defining management strategies for old-growth reserves and surrounding areas that will protect ecological values while also allowing for timber harvests to meet economic needs.

* Economic transition assistance should be provided to people and rural communities adversely affected by the legislative solution, including job retraining for dislocated workers and grants and loans for economic diversification in communities.


* Details of the interim program, such as the size of the protected old-growth area and the timber-harvest levels.

* What type of management will be permitted in old-growth reserves and surrounding areas, during both interim and long-term programs.

* How the reserves will be designated-whether by Congress through legislation or by the federal land-management agencies through planning and administrative processes.

* The manner in which scientists and other experts outside the federal agencies will be involved in the process of establishing the old-growth reserves and defining management guidelines.

* How to provide greater certainty that the federal agencies can implement forest plans and the provisions of this agreement without unduly restricting the rights of citizens to appeal federal actions. -- GERALD J. GRAY
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Title Annotation:includes related article; forest policy
Author:Gray, Gerald J.
Publication:American Forests
Date:Sep 1, 1991
Previous Article:Ruminations at the woodpile.
Next Article:Old growth, owls, & timber towns.

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