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Thumbs-up for Clinton plan.

If you've been following the forest controversy in the Pacific Northwest, you're no doubt aware that President Clinton has made good on his promise to deliver a plan to end the legal stalemate over timber harvest on the federal lands of the region. If you've been reading the newspapers in Washington, DC, or the Pacific Northwest, you've probably also noticed that the plan has been loudly criticized as being "inadequate," "unfair," "unbalanced," and by one Congressional leader as "dead on arrival" at Capitol Hill.

With all due respect to those whose opinions have dominated the news, we'd like to disagree. The President's plan, as we understand it today, represents a courageous, constructive, responsible attempt to make a horrible situation better. It's not perfect, and it won't come anywhere close to satisfying everyone, but it is an enormous improvement over the situation that existed on April 1, 1993--the day before the President convened the historic "forest summit" in Portland, Oregon.

The plan that has been outlined is not a blueprint; it's a direction. And, we think, it is a direction that has strong merit, in terms of modern forest science, existing federal law, and public opinion as it has been expressed in recent years. The basis of the plan is the forest itself, and the need to keep that forest viable and functioning.

Using watersheds as the building blocks and focusing attention on adaptive management are solid concepts. This plan is not focused on owl protection but rather on forest management that gives owls--and all other species--a better chance to coexist. The proposal to build old-growth reserves around waterways and existing old-growth stands should result in landscape patterns that have long-term benefits for a variety of forest uses and species, compared to earlier proposals which would have built reserves around remaining old-growth fragments. The ability to conduct limited activity, such as thinning, within these reserves will be important in helping to accelerate the redevelopment of old-growth characteristics. Relaxing the restrictions on "owl circles" is absolutely essential if forest managers are to move from a single-species approach to an ecosystem-management approach.

We've long supported a switch to forest-management systems that sustain multi-aged, multiple-species forests over much of the federal land. We've been in support of what is now called "ecosystem management" as it has been developed to describe the kinds of forest treatments that represent a more natural, lighter-on-the-land management approach. The adaptive approach proposed will allow for testing new management methods needed to make ecosystem management a reality. We applaud the President's program for basing its approach on these concepts. It is controversial, to be sure, and the details are not all clear, but the direction is right.

During the study period following the forest summit, AMERICAN FORESTS urged that land-stewardship contracts increasingly replace conventional timber-sales contracts. The effect would be to harness the skills of loggers and timber companies in leaving federal forests in better condition following any timber activity. The current system focuses too much on what is removed from the forest, and not enough on the resulting forest condition. A new relationship, and a new set of economic incentives, are essential. Under the leadership of Chairman Sid Yates of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, multi-year, end-result stewardship contracts have been tested in several national forests. It's time to broaden that approach. The President's plan didn't make such contracts universal, and we will continue to press Congress to accomplish this.

We proposed that some of the decline in harvest of west-side old-growth forests should be offset by increased attention to thinning and other forest-health-related actions on the dry forests east of the Cascades. We urged an end to the current federal log-export subsidies that give foreign log buyers a 7 percent competitive edge over domestic mills. The President's plan agrees on both issues.

Finally, we can't avoid taking issue with some of the plan's critics. Major howls of anguish came from some of the region's Congressional delegation: "The plan isn't 'balanced;' it gives more to the environmentalists than to the industry. It isn't fair." We applaud the President for recognizing that the challenge was not to divide the baby equally, but to keep the baby alive and healthy. This plan is based more on today's scientific understandings and laws than it is on politics. It demonstrates why the Administration, not Congress, was the right entity to lead the search for solutions.

Environmentalists blasted the idea of salvage logging and commercial thinning in the owl reserves, but we don't agree there, either. With hundreds of potentially threatened and endangered species, there is no chance to build a long-term forest habitat on the basis of "leave everything alone." The challenge is not to set aside a large enough system of inviolable preserves; the challenge is to learn how to manage forest habitats for total ecosystem health. It demands caution and close monitoring, but success will require action, not inaction.

Some critics of the Clinton plan hammer on the proposed timber-sale level of 1.2 billion board feet per year, saying that it represents an 80 percent reduction from the levels in the 5-bbf to 6-bbf range that characterized the 1980s, and that it will be responsible for enormous job losses in the region. Those claims are misleading. The high timber-sale levels came from a different approach to federal forest management--an approach that failed both public-opinion and legal tests. By 1991, the timber-sale levels of the 1980s were history, replaced by a legal stalemate that almost halted the federal timber-sale program in the region.

So the Clinton plan should be compared, in our view, to the situation that existed in March of 1993, and to the future that faced the region if no settlement to the stalemate was forthcoming. That was a future filled with doubt, uncertainty, enormous economic and social costs, and debilitating controversy. It wasn't good for the forests, it wasn't good for the people in the forest communities, and it certainly wasn't good for either the Forest Service or its political leaders in Washington.

Will the Clinton plan be better? We think and hope so, and we applaud this Administration's courage in trying.
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Title Annotation:Pres. Bill Clinton's policy on timber harvests on federal lands
Author:Sampson, Neil
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Tree "teen"acity.
Next Article:Are you an eco-titan?

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