CONSERVATION REPORT, May. 93 Storm Petrel1
Clinton Forest Summit2: Democrats won't face the truth any more than Republicans. President distains activists while schmoozing big timber. But, we won!
The Clinton Forest Conference
The summit was certainly a dramatic event. To have the President, Vice President and so many cabinet members in one room to discuss our forests was very exciting for everyone. An ancient forest rally in Portland the night before the summit drew 50–70,000 people. As might be expected, the media coverage was extensive – over 1000 reporters descended on Portland.
Any event that focuses the attention of the whole country on the problems of Northwest forests is a positive thing. That the forest issue is more than just jobs vs. owls was clearly established. Certainly the timber spokes people wanted the focus on jobs and mill closings, but the whole range of silly anti–endangered species arguments that have characterize this debate were thankfully missing. Most importantly, no one from the timber side denied the need to protect ancient forests.
Regrettably there was no real discussion of the final resolution to this problem, and the scientists were sent off on what promises to be another search for the non–fattening hot fudge sundae.
But this summit, and other events of the last few months, has created a strong possibility that the ancient forests and roadless areas in our corner of Oregon will be protected. The timber summit overshadowed the recent listing of the Marbled Murrelet, but this elusive sea bird, which requires exactly the kind of habitat that Curry County provides, will have an impact far beyond that of the Northern spotted owl. Also, the tragic decline of the salmon has finally brought fishermen, and state and federal agencies to a new awareness of the need to protect riparian habitat. They are both now, for the first time, speaking out forcefully for the need to slow logging near rivers and on steep slopes.
The outcome of the forest summit will probably be to bring all these threads together in a plan that allows all the parties to see just where they stand. The uncertainty of the situation has been a large part of the problem for timber companies and workers, as well as employees of land management agencies and environmentalists. Large permanent set-a-sides are overdue and inevitable, especially now that the federal regulatory process begins to resume after 12 years where essentially, in the words of many federal judges, the agencies that were supposed to enforce the laws systematically broke them.
All this will have a big impact locally. We have been worried for some time because 18 potentially damaging sales in 13 roadless areas are in various stages of planning on the Siskiyou Forest. It is possible that many, or perhaps all these sales, will be scrapped. The struggle to end clear cut logging of ancient forests that Kalmiopsis Audubon Society has fought continuously for so many years may finally come to an end.
The solution that eventually emerges will probably be a combination of recovery plans for the various species; protection of roadless areas – at least to the extent of not building roads; the use of selective cutting and thinning; some sort of log export restriction will be imposed (hopefully a complete ban, but more likely a change in tax and export subsidies); and restoration projects will be undertaken to begin healing the damage presently out there.
[Speaking of restoration], if it continues to rain real damage will occur out in the woods. There is often a long lag between when trees are cut and when landslides occur. The roots take years to rot after a tree is cut. Sometimes the lag between cutting and visible damage is 20 years. This year's rainfall is setting records and the soil is now completely saturated. We haven't had any real flooding, but local reports of landslides are starting to come in. The extent of problems is not yet clear. Another month like April or a big monster storm and everyone will be back to the drawing boards. Forest ecologists say that the forests are now staged for massive earth flows and landslides if our rainfall returns to normal levels.]
Despite the positive signs emerging from the summit, some of the activists were left with an unsettled feeling. For many years local grassroots activists have been forced to deal in a face to face way with Forest Service and BLM managers who were actively engaged in what Judge Dwyer, who imposed the current injunctions, tactfully called, deliberate and systematic lawbreaking. Many activists hoped that the ecosystem unraveling created by the collusion of the timber industry, federal land managers and local politicians would finally be exposed for the whole country to see. Alas, it was not.
Some forest activists believe we need to publicize the fact that forest devastation is driven by large corporations externalizing their costs of doing business, i.e. pushing them off on weaker groups like fishermen, small communities and taxpayers. They would have liked the President to acknowledge that activists have been performing the oversight, monitoring and enforcement of the environmental laws during the Reagan/Bush years – often at considerable cost, and even risk, to themselves.
National environmental groups have tended to emphasize the enormous distance that the issue has come in the last few years – farther than anyone had dreamed possible. They are proud of what they have accomplished, and with good reason. That this issue has ripened to the remarkable extent it has is due in large measure to the National groups like Audubon, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation. They have done enormous work that grassroots activists often don't appreciate nearly enough.
Sometimes it's best in public policy debates to accept the fact that mistakes were made, and go forward without assessing guilt. This is possible only when the parties have agreed on a new path. And from viewing the industry ads on TV during, and listening to their spokesmen on talk shows after the conference, its hard to see where they admit that they have ever made any mistakes. If the US Forest Service has changed its approach to forest management since Clinton's 's election it certainly has not been visible to anyone around here.
The subliminal message of the summit was that the timber industry is somehow put upon and just trying to do its job, and that the environmental activists are guilty of some kind of excess. One could sense this from the reluctant and somewhat perfunctory way the President introduced Andy Kerr compared with the way he deferred to timber executives. Felice Pace, the activist from California who we all admire so much, didn't even get a chance to give his talk in the last panel. It's hard to imagine the President overlooking a representative of one of the timber companies
If public policy issues depend on a serious sorting of facts before recommendations can be made, sensitive Clinton and amiable Espy might have better spent their time in a private meeting with Judge Dwyer. Dwyer did his fact finding under rules of evidence in a court of law subject to cross examination and rebuttal, and already went over and disposed of much of the misinformation that abounded at the summit on exports, log price trends, how much forest is left, and why mills really closed.
What were the unstated working assumptions of this conference:
- The new administration is willing to acknowledge that the forest problem is about more than just spotted owls, but is no more willing to publicly surface the underlying issues than its predecessors.
- Preservationist and devastationists arguments will be treated as if they are equally valid. Both sides have equal standing.
- Large employers like Weyerhaeuser are senior members at the table and are to be treated with utmost respect
- Facts are whatever anybody says. Anybody can say anything.
- Maybe people did some bad things in the past, but we have to go forward. Guilt is everywhere and nowhere.
- Any environmental hero this administration hugs in front of TV cameras ain't gonna be from this particular continent.
- Don't expect an apology. We may get a solution of the immediate problems, but don't hold your breath waiting for an airing of what caused these problems.
What did we learn:
A massive job retraining will soon be needed for a lot of fine hardworking people who have just been getting by making a living off of old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest... I refer of course to the many forest activists who will probably be unemployed if the federal government brings clear cut logging of ancient forests to an end, as it now looks it might.