CONSERVATION REPORT, August 93 Storm Petrel1
Analysis of The Clinton Forest Plan2. Good protection locally in SW Oregon but there may be a high cost elsewhere.
The Clinton Forest Plan Part 1
President Clinton promised at the forest summit in April, a plan to break the "gridlock" caused by injunctions a federal judge has imposed on new timber sales in the Pacific Northwest The judge imposed injunctions because he believed the Forest Service and BLM were not following existing laws that require that logging on federal lands protect the viability of species that exist on those lands.
Technically, this Clinton forest plan is a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that creates new guidelines and procedures for future timber sales. Like any DEIS it is subject to a comment period after which a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) will be released.
A DEIS contains many alternative plans or options. The Clinton plan contains 10, and like all DEIS's, one is the "preferred alternative". In the case of this plan, option 9 is the preferred alternative. This alternative takes a whole new look at the 24 million acres of Northwest Federal Forests that contain Northern Spotted Owls.
Essentially, option 9 creates a new system of reserve areas where logging can only occur under very restricted circumstances, and it creates areas where logging will be allowed. If one adds the new reserves to areas where logging has already been restricted or forbidden, like Wilderness areas, or lands unsuitable for logging; then, on approximately 19 of the 24 million acres of federal lands logging will either be forbidden or greatly restricted. The overall impact of the new reserves and new rules governing logging will reduce the amount of timber cut on Northwest federal forests from about 4.5 billion board feet per year to about 1.2.
With the release of this 1800 page DEIS we can now begin to understand the effects this major reorganization of federal forest lands will have on our local area, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest. The maps of the reserve areas are available for examination at Beneath the Wind Basket Studio in Port Orford. Extensive maps detailing the proposed management of the Siskiyou and other Forests under the plan will be published in the next Storm Petrel.
It is clear the Clinton Administration intends for logging to resume on National Forests - albeit at a reduced level - as soon as this plan can be put into effect. Kalmiopsis Audubon and other environmental organizations will be preparing voluminous comments on the plan in the coming months. We have a number of specific concerns, particularly with various provisions for administrative discretion that might undo the extensive protections that appear on the surface. The Forest Service and BLM–s abuse of their agencies discretion got us in our present mess.
Another paradox of the plan is that although extensive preserves are proposed, they do not include all the remaining Ancient Forests or all the remaining roadless areas. Approximately 15–25% of the roadless areas and Ancient Forests potentially remain open to clear cutting.
This has made the environmental community very upset. The timber industry and labor unions, on the other hand, are very upset because they believe the proposed reserves, which include existing plantations and other younger growth trees, are too extensive. So, logging is restricted in some areas of younger forest, but permitted in areas of older forest. This may seem like a pretty foolish thing to do, but apparently makes sense to planners who are trying to comply with current laws which require the protection of species but not roadless areas and Ancient Forests.
To tailor timber cutting more to local species and forest conditions, the Clinton forest plan provides for many new site–specific guidelines. Until now, all Federal Forests have been managed under more or less the same rules. What affected one Forest affected them all. Now each Forest will be treated individually, based on local species and forest conditions. Some Forests will practically be closed to logging; while logging will resume, perhaps soon, on others.
Option 9 appears to place a large portion of our local roadless areas and Ancient Forests into permanent preserves. What is left out of preserves is subject to whole new classes of protection, studies, and reviews; so, for all practical purposes may only be open to limited logging. A few roadless areas such as the South Kalmiopsis and Shasta Costa are only partly in reserves and are of particular concern.
Streams of all orders, from major rivers to the smallest intermittent streams, will be subject to a new system of stream side buffers, which vary by size of the stream, presence of fish, height of trees, and condition of the channel. Since these protections extend to many small intermittent streams that haven't been mapped it is hard to say what the actual effect of these "riparian buffers" might be. Further, some whole watersheds, 160 out of 500 in the Northwest and about a dozen on the Siskiyou Forest, are now subject to special protections on road building and/or special studies before any logging can take place (the Elk River is one of these "key watersheds").
One provision in the Clinton plan is funding for watershed restoration to repair the damage that decades of over logging has created. This county has a good chance to obtain federal money for high paying jobs doing restoration work in the woods.
The Clinton Plan is subject to several vulnerabilities. If, as some fear, the scientific panels that calculated the preserves "fudged" their data to get away with smaller preserve areas than the species actually require, this will soon come out and may unravel the scientific underpinnings of the whole concept. Some scientists on the team that wrote the plan have made such charges. As yet it is not clear whether these unhappy scientists are the tip of an iceberg or merely a few losers of behind closed-door scientific or bureaucratic infighting carrying their battles to a public forum. In any case, the report itself clearly shows that even under the new reserves 20 species may still be at risk. This may not satisfy current laws.
Regardless of whether the science is credible, new information and peer review during the comment period may establish that the degree of over logging in the past is so great that this plan is inadequate. If that occurs the Clinton Administration has two basic choices: enlarge the preserves, or suspend or weaken existing environmental laws. No one knows what the American public would think if the Administration tried to abandon the existing laws on endangered species.
Under the Clinton plan the cutting of trees in the Siskiyou National Forest will be dramatically reduced - probably by 80% - in the long run. In the short run, the current defacto moratorium on new sales will probably be extended for six or more months, with sales to resume on a limited basis in about a year. Under the Clinton forest plan much of the Siskiyou will be in permanent preserves and the long term logging level on this Forest will probably be about 30-50 million board feet - down from its historical average of 160 million board feet. This volume will be obtained from smaller sales where the trees are cut by non-clear cutting methods, light touch thinning and very small patch cuts. Although clear cutting of Ancient Forests could still occur in many places, overall there should be a dramatic reduction of road building, and over time, a reduction of roads in the Forests. Nearby, the Elk River is scheduled for a permanent preserve.
Currently there is an injunction on most timber sales in the Pacific Northwest because of the Northern Spotted owl, and the area 35 miles in from the ocean is subject to special protection because it is habitat for the Marbled Murrelet. Although this plan reduces the protection for Murrelets from a 35-mile inland zone of protection to a less extensive preserve, the ultimate picture on the bird's protection will develop over the coming months as rules and legal opinions emerge. Ultimately the amount of protection for this bird will be the primary determinant of the logging levels on the west side of the Siskiyou Forest.
We have always been fortunate that our Forest, unlike some, has a well organized net work of forest activists, and we expect the environmental concerns of this forest will continue to receive prominent regional and national attention. Kalmiopsis Audubon Society intends to work with the Siskiyou Forest and hopes the productive relationship that existed between the managers of this Forest and Siskiyou activists will resume after several years of a somewhat strained relationship.
In other parts of the country, i.e. Alaska and the Rockies, plans are underway to accelerate clear cutting to make up for the reduction in volume here. It is a fact of life that in this country the environmental climate and the rules for forests are essentially under the jurisdiction of the US Senate. The Western states vote and act as a block to preserve government subsidized mining, grazing and timber cutting on public lands.
This historical situation has not changed. In fact, it has deteriorated due to some changes for the worse in the Congress. The Clinton administration has to do the best it can with the resources it has. While we would like a better plan, we will work with and try to support the administration as it seeks to find some balance between the needs of the environment and the power of the Western Senators. As long as the country keeps putting into office people who view federal land as essentially a free store, no underlying change in our attitudes toward public lands can occur. While locally we appear to have the potential for a degree of protection, it may be achieved at a tragic cost to other places.