Albion Monitor /News
[Editor's note: For a comprehensive background on the salvage rider law, see Philip Daoust's comprehensive feature in our last issue.]

Clinton Backslides on Forest Protection

by Philip E. Daoust

Politicans believe Clinton has given up on fighting for the repeal

President Clinton, who apologized to voters for signing legislation last July that allows timber companies to clear-cut large tracts of national forest land without having to comply with environmental laws, appears to have abandoned his promise to help repeal the law, known as the salvage rider.

Despite Clinton's prior willingness to fight for a repeal, environmental groups and politicans believe Clinton has given up on fighting for the repeal.

Last week, Sen. Mark Hatfield (R - Oregon) accused the Clinton administration's decision not to push for amendments to the salvage rider in this year's budget bill as election year politics.

"I can only assume that the White House has determined that retaining the issue is more valuable during an election year than solving the problem," Hatfield told the Associated Press.

Already this year, more than 2 billion board feet have been sold

The Oregonian newspaper reported that Hatfield had been told by White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta that the president planned to veto this year's entire budget bill if it included amendments to change the salvage rider.

The timber industry has argued that Clinton knew what he was signing when he put his signature to last year's budget bill, which included the salvage rider amendment. Loggers also contend that more logging is needed to keep jobs in areas where the timber industry has employed people for decades.

The rider stipulates that 4 - 6 billion board feet of timber on national forest lands be sold and logged in the next two years. Already this year, the Forest Service estimates that more than 2 billion board feet have already been sold.

Hatfield predicted that weeks before this year's presidential election, Clinton will regret not taking advantage of the "authority Congress had offered to give him."

In the Senate, Bill Bradley (D - New Jersey) is sponsoring a bill that would repeal the salvage rider.

But there appears to be a better chance in the House of Representatives, where a bill by Reps. Elizabeth Furse (D - Oregon) and Connie Morella (R - Maryland) has been co-sponsored by 140 House members. The bill would essentially repeal the salvage rider outright.

Many environmentalists argue that Clinton has fallen back on his promises

Despite growing support in the House for Furse's bill, environmentalists are unsure whether it will make it through the Republican-controlled House, especially under intense pressure from timber industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

"Our chances look good with (the Furse bill)," said Gary Ball, coordinator with the Mendocino Environmental Center. "But, the question is what are the chances that it will get to the floor (for a vote) and through the committees? If it does, we expect Clinton would not veto the bill."

Another bill by Sen. Larry Craig, (R - Idaho), ironically called the "Federal Lands Forest Health Protection and Restoration Act," would make the provisions of the salvage rider permanent.

"Right now, it is not going anywhere," Ball said of Craig's bill.

Ball said that despite Clinton's promise in March to fight for repeal of the salvage rider, the president appears to be maneuvering instead to keep it intact.

"We expected Clinton to hold out for repeal (of the salvage rider) in the latest budget. In the end, he ended up caving in," Ball said, adding that the president is trying to "persuade timber interests who have made large campaign contributions" to Clinton's reelection efforts.

However, the president recently suspended one planned clear-cut in the Mendocino National Forest.

"This is an obvious attempt to keep crucial votes in California," according to Ball.

"The president's people know that cutting old growth in northern California will be met with large protests, which would attract media attention the president would be embarrassed by," Ball said.

While the administration has taken some action to block some timber sales, allowed in a provision of the salvage rider, many environmentalists argue that Clinton has fallen back on his promises to protect the nation's old growth forests on public lands.

"We are disappointed with Clinton, " Hugo Llamas, information coordinator for Rainforest Action in San Francisco. "As far as what we can do to pursuade him to repeal the (salvage) rider, it appears to be too late."

Llamas said that Clinton has "backslided" during his presidency on legislation and policies that protect old growth forests.

Ball said there are a dozen or so timber cuts slated to go forward this year in the Mendocino National Forest and the Six Rivers National Forest, both located in northern California.

"As long as one board comes off that could qualify as salvage, it should be called salvage"

A few weeks ago, Forest Service Chief Jack Thomas and Agriculture Undersecretary James Lyons testified before Congress that logging in the Pacific Northwest will exceed the one billion-board feet outlined in the Clinton forest plan. Much of the logging will make up for logging delays over the last few years before the salvage rider was signed by the president.

Initially, the plan called for one billion board feet to be logged each year from 1992 to 2002. But Thomas testified that in the past three years, about 200 million, 400 million and 600 million were logged. Thomas anticipated that at least an additional 800 million board feet is planned for logging by the end of the 1997 fiscal year.

The logging operations scheduled to take place under the Clinton plan are in addition to logging stipulated by the salvage rider.

Another nearly 200 million board feet is expected to be logged in northern California, bringing the total close to or over the 1 billion board feet requirement.

"We'll be at one billion or so for two or three years, then ramp up above that the last three years of the decade so we'll average 1.05 billion," Thomas said.

During the height of massive clear-cuts in the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s, more than 4.5-billion board feet were logged annually from national forest lands, and as much as 12 billion board feet during the peak years.

A number of federal court rulings near the end of the decade found that many logging operations violated environmental laws and thus many scheduled cuts were delayed. But the timber industry filed numerous lawsuits challenging the courts decisions and lobbied heavily in Washington.

Armed with a number of legal challenges against the Forest Service, environmental groups fought back. The Forest Service didn't calm any nerves after a 1992 memo from a Forest Service office in Oregon was uncovered.

The memo read: "We were told that virtually every sale should include 'salvage' in the name. Even if a sale is totally green, as long as one board comes off that could qualify as salvage, it should be called salvage. It's a political thing."

But environmentalists have so far been unsuccessful in opposing the salvage rider despite vows that they will continue to fight for old growth forests.

"Clinton's plan doesn't save one tree, not one"

But on April 10, a federal appeals court in San Francisco rejected petitions from both logging interests and environmental groups and upheld the controversial Clinton administration's forest management plan.

The ruling is believed to have set the stage for a new series of legislation in the Congress that would aim to undermine the administration's management plan in favor of logging or environmental interests, with little hope for compromise, especially in an election year.

Clinton's plan effects more than 24 million acres of federal lands in Northern California, Oregon and Washington state. After becoming law in May of 1994, the management plan nullified a decade-long ban on logging large tracts of land in the Pacific Northwest, but only authorized logging to about one-fourth the level carried out during the peak years of the early 1980's and provided further protection for endangered species, such as the spotted owl and the marbled murrelet.

While the timber industry argued that Clinton's plan did not allow enough logging, environmental groups contested that it went too far and threatened entire ecosystems dependent on healthy, sustainable forests.

The plan was upheld in December of 1994 by U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer. The appeals court ruling last month was a 3-0 decision. The court said the administration's plan was "designed to bring some much-needed coherence to the management of federal forests in the Pacific Northwest."

The court also determined that both the Agriculture and Interior secretaries had satisfied provisions to provide protection for endangered species, even though the salvage rider suspends environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, for most timber sales.

While Peter Coppelman, the president's deputy assistant attorney general for environmental and natural resources, said the rider was "completely unnecessary," he expressed that the administration is pleased with the court's ruling to uphold the plan.

The plan "strikes a balance between environmental concerns and insuring a sustainable level of timber harvests," Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt said in a statement shortly

Environmentalists, like Tim Hermach of the Native Forest Council of Eugene, Ore., argued that Clinton plan is not environmentally sound.

"Clinton's plan doesn't save one tree, not one," he said.

Environmentalists and scientists argue that claims that the fire hazards in the national forests are at an all time high because of dead and dying timber is a fraud.

"The fire hazards are exaggerated," Hermach said.

In fact, dead and dying trees are a natural and important part of the constant circle of life in a forest ecosystem. When trees die and fall to the forest floor, essential nutrients are recycled by insects and other animals. When those trees are removed, not only is that link in the circle of life disrupted, but the entire ecosystem can be devastated by clear-cutting and construction of logging roads. Furthermore, the removal of dead trees often leaves behind large amounts of dry slash, a fire hazard itself.

For the first time ever, the century-old Sierra Club has taken an official stand against all commercial logging of national forests

In what is considered a major victory for the timber industry, on April 24, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the salvage rider authorized the release of at least 60 tracts of forest land for clear-cutting that had been delayed for years by the Clinton administration.

The court reaffirmed the rider's provisions that allow logging of old growth forests without having to comply with enviornmental laws.

The release of the timber sales in national forest areas of Washington and Oregon totaled 246 million board feet. The administration did not oppose the sale and inevitable logging of an additional 410 million board feet.

Clinton knew what the law meant for national forest lands, but did not actively oppose it.

The tracts of old growth timber were sold in 1989, but have been held up because of disputes to protect the endangered northern spotted owl.

"It is not our role to determine the wisdom of (the law), only its meaning," said the opinion by Judge Michael Hawkins, a Clinton appointee. He said the language of the law "clearly authorizes the release of timber sales `offered or awarded' up until the date of enactment."

The disputed timber is enough to fill 49,000 logging trucks, said the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

For the first time ever, the century-old Sierra Club has taken an official stand against all commercial logging of national forests in the United States. In a nationwide mail-in vote tallied on April 20, members voted by a 2-1 margin to change the organization's traditional position on commercial logging.

Approximately 10 percent of the organization's 587,499 members voted. Of that number, 39,147 members voted for the measure,compared to 20,287 who voted to defeat it, according to club spokesman Daniel Silverman.

Despite the vote, Silverman said that the organization's daily activities will not change dramatically, but it would support any Congressional efforts to ban logging on federal lands permanently.

"The only change will be if legislation is introduced in Congress that specifically says no logging whatsoever on federal property, then we will support that legislation," he said.

While there is no accurate accounting of what percentage of original old growth forests remain in the Pacific Northwest, Ball said the most commonly used figure is no more than 2 percent.

An old growth forest is typically classified as a forest that has existed undisturbed by man for at least 200 years and which contain characteristics of old growth ecosystems, such as colonies of lichens and mineral-rich soil.

The impact of the salvage rider on national forest lands is evident around the country. Donella Meadows of the Charleston Gazette commented, "Reports of devastation arrive so fast that we find it impossible to put together the big picture of what is happening in our forests." Here are some recent examples of logging operations carried out under the salvage rider:

  • In Oregon's Umpqua National Forest, protestors were jailed a few weeks ago for opposing a 209-acre clear-cut of thousand-year-old trees that were protected until the salvage rider passed. It is only one of a dozen clearcuts planned in the Umpqua this year.

  • In Missouri's Mark Twain National Forest, two acres of fire-damaged trees compelled the Forest Service to target an entire 240 acres for salvage sale.

  • In Alabama, more than 50 percent of timber sales in the Conecuh National Forest are salvage sales. Protestors say the forest will suffer extensive damage from the logging operation.

  • In Idaho, the state's Fish and Game Department unsuccessfully protested a sale that biologists said will permanently damage habitats for the chinook salmon.

  • In Montana, 200-acre clearcuts are taking place in the Kootenai and Helena National Forests. The Idaho Fish and Game Department objected to a sale.

  • Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

    Albion Monitor May 5, 1996 (

    All Rights Reserved.

    Contact for permission to reproduce.

    Front Page