Albion Monitor /Commentary

Loggers Wanted Washington to "Cook the Numbers"

by Russell Sadler

In the Reagan years, Louisiana-Pacific's lawyer was overseeing the U.S. Forest Service

(AR) MEDFORD, Ore. -- "GOP Wants More Timber," reads the headline. The minions of the Grand Old Party forget their appetite for timber is what got the Northwest timber economy into a very tight spot in the first place.

Shortly after Ronald Reagan's election in 1980, Louisiana-Pacific Legal Counsel John Crowell swaggered into Washington as Asst. Secretary of Agriculture overseeing the U.S. Forest Service. Louisiana-Pacific was heavily dependent on federal timber supplies then.

Crowell, a political appointee, arbitrarily ordered the Forest Service to increase their timber cut. Interior Secretary James Watt issued similar marching orders to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which owns substantial timber holdings in Oregon. Forget the forest plans, came the unwritten word, just get the cut out.

Reagan and Bush administrations would not admit more logging was payback for campaign contributions

Environmentalists predictably sued. In Seattle, U.S. District Judge William Dwyer asked the Forest Service to explain how the agency justified so much logging when the text of the forest plans talked about conservation and appeared to indicate reduced logging. The Forest Service couldn't explain -- "Politicians told us to cook the numbers," is not an argument that usually satisfies judges.

In Portland, U.S. District Judge Helen Frye went through essentially the same exercise with the Bureau of Land Management. Traditionally, federal judges are reluctant to substitute their personal judgment for the judgment of agencies created by congress to develop expertise in a specialized area like forest management. Judges usually limit their review to three subjects:

Is the agency acting within the constitutional authority delegate by congress? Is the agency following it own procedures? Can a reasonable person weighing the same evidence come to the same conclusion the agency did?

It is this last category that prompted Dwyer and Frye to issue their injunctions barring federal timber sales in the Northwest until the Forest Service and the BLM explained the wide discrepancy between the text of the forest plans and the large allowable cut. The Reagan and Bush administrations would not admit they had arbitrarily ordered more logging to pay off their campaign contributors. The Bush administration's attitude was defiant. "Let 'em sue," said President Bush. Sue they did. And work in the federal woods can to a halt.

Dwyer and Frye did not receive adequate explanations until Bill Clinton was elected President. Clinton's Option 9 did not please environmentalists or the timber industry, but it did rationalize the discrepancy between the text of the forest plans and the amount of logging permitted. Both Dwyer and Frye dissolved their injunctions and the Forest Service and the BLM were free to offer timber sales again in accordance with existing law.

Existing law, however, requires substantial time for review and public comment on timber sales. Appeals are always possible and appeals take time. It was apparent no timber could be offered for sale this summer if sales were prepared in accordance with existing law.

Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield and Washington Senator Slade Gorton slipped a rider into a budget cutting bill exempting salvage logging sales from existing environmental laws and judicial review. The senators insisted it was urgent to get the "dead and dying" timber off the ground and into the mills before it rots.

Clinton signed the rescission bill promising he would see that the Forest Service and the BLM obeyed environmental laws despite the exemption. Now Senator Gorton is moving the goal posts. Gorton insists the rider he and Hatfield sponsored means something more than he said it meant in debate on the Senate floor.

Senator now claims his bill meant something entirely different

Gorton now argues the salvage logging rider in the budget rescission bill also requires the Forest Service and the BLM to restart all the timber sales held up by injunctions and at 1989 prices! No dead and dying trees here. These sales were authorized by previous appropriation bill riders sponsored by Hatfield and Gorton. They include 600 million to one billion board feet of very green, very old growth timber along the coasts of Oregon and Washington and in the Cascades.

The Forest Service and the BLM are trying to decide how they will interpret the new rider, which apparently no longer means what it says. Not surprisingly, environmentalists threaten to sue if the agencies interpret it to authorize logging green trees. The timber industry threatens to sue if they don't. The rider claims to bar judicial review for compliance with environmental laws, but probably does not prevent the courts from deciding a dispute over what the language actually means.

This is not the first time politicians have put natural resources in the political porkbarrel instead of money. The Nixon administration arbitrarily ordered an increase in logging on federal forest land in the late 1960's to pay off campaign contributors. Back then, much of the ensuing battle raged in secret because there were few environmental groups looking over the shoulders of federal agencies. Several professional federal land managers put their careers on the line to stop arbitrary increases in logging.

The late Don Schofield quietly resisted because he thought the increased logging violated the principles of good forestry. He was transferred from his job as manager of the BLM's Medford District to a do-nothing post.

Russell Sadler is a Pacific Northwest correspondent for The American Reporter.

Albion Monitor October 9, 1995 (

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