CONSERVATION REPORT, January 94 Storm Petrel1

Final Clinton Forest Plan2. None of the options protect all species. Big concerns for "low life" species like lichens, fungus and mollusks.

Emerging Trends for Northwest Forests

Final Clinton Forest Plan nears

The final version of the Clinton forest plan will soon be released. Regardless of whether the administration selects its preferred plan (option 9) – which reduces the timber cut from about 3 billion board feet a year to about 1.2, but still sacrifices ancient forests – or option 1 – which many environmentalists advocate – it is likely that any plan the administration finally adopts will receive legal challenge. The legal and policy impasse that now exists will continue, and logging activity will settle out at some greatly reduced level.

As the process drags on, the world does not stand still. The booming economy continues to create jobs and people are moving into Oregon at increasing rates. Meanwhile, the erosion of employment in the mills and forests due to automation and reduced federal log supply continually reduces the work force employed in the timber industry which is down to only 3% of the work force in State. As the influence of the timber industry wanes, newcomers moving into the State want to see rural areas preserved, not logged. Yellow ribbons, once every place, are now seldom seen, and attendance at pro–timber rallies and meetings are greatly reduced. While there are fewer environmental champions in the Congress, some of the most rabid pro-timber industry supporters are also gone. In the range from northern California through Washington State a moderate tone seems to have replaced the more virulent rhetoric. The anti-forest protection contingent seems to have lost its virulent sharp edge – at least in the Pacific Northwest.

Meanwhile in the Forest Service, the hard line timber beasts are retiring and forest service staffing continually declines. On many forests like the Siskiyou, even if an administration wanted to resume timber cutting on a large scale, the people required to prepare such sales are gone, and the new heads of both BLM and the Forest Service are generally perceived to be more pro-environmental. While discrimination against whistle blowers is not eradicated, the climate seems to be improving. We can probably expect another year of drift and muddle until a new phase of the struggle over Northwest forests begins. Following is an outline for the next phase of the forest struggle.

Until now forest activists have been primarily motivated by the desire to stop the logging of ancient forests in their local areas. To accomplish this they continually encouraged land management agencies to redirect their logging schemes away from roadless and riparian areas, and ancient forests into second growth, plantations and younger forests. Light touch forestry, thinning and selective logging were often advocated as an alternative to old growth clear-cutting. The mainstream view, and the view of Kalmiopsis Audubon, has been that everyone could win if light touch logging, as opposed to clear cutting, was adopted across a wide landscape. Past issues of the Storm Petrel have developed alternative light touch logging ideas in depth. Our local Shasta Costa project, in which Kalmiopsis Audubon was involved, was an example of this collaborative approach. Kalmiopsis Audubon has, in fact, been criticized in the past by some in the forest activist community for being too involved in planning logging operations – for perhaps being too close to the chain saws.

The release of the Clinton forest plan caused a fundamental change to occur in the politics and biology of public land logging, the effect of which is only now being perceived. When the Clinton forest plan was released in July most of the public debate focused on the preferred option 9. While most environmental organizations advocated improvements in this plan, few national environmental organizations would publicly advocate the option most restrictive of logging, option 1, which reduced logging to a mere 200 million board feet. This level was considered so low that few would seriously support it, at least in public, at least initially.

The 2000 page Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) that laid out the problems in Northwest forests and selected Option 9 as the solution is very complex. Remember that the legal requirements for preserving species involve many overlapping laws and complex questions over: different standards for species listed as endangered as opposed to not yet listed; public lands vs. private lands; the definition of species; what is species viability; what is jeopardy to a species; and a host of other complex legal, political and biological issues.

Even today few people have actually studied the EIS in depth. But those who have, mostly a few environmentalists, some staff of elected officials, and of course the scientists who worked on it, have been concerned about one aspect which has received very little public attention. They noted that even the option most restrictive of logging, option 1, does not preserve at a high enough level of viability all the species that depend on public lands. As this problem becomes better understood it will probably undermine both the Clinton forest plan and the prevailing strategies of most forest activists; because, what it shows is that the solution to Pacific Northwest forests will require logging cutbacks more dramatic than any that have been publicly proposed to date. For some local forest activists who have said for years that they are not against all logging, just certain kinds of logging, the idea of anyone in the forest activist community advocating, or even suggesting, a no-logging policy for public lands is extremely worrisome.

The problem in the Clinton forest plan is most clearly evident in the little studied species, the so called "low life" species such as lichens, fungus and mollusks, but also to some extent in what are called the "charismatic megafauna" (large animals that receive most public attention). The report show that even if all logging on federal lands was stopped the survival of some species would still be in doubt. Current laws, laws already on the books, may not be satisfied by either option 9 or by option 1; moreover, and this is where it really gets hairy, even a total ban on logging public lands may not be sufficient. To protect all the species we may need to stop all logging on public lands and restrict logging on private lands. Although the numbers have yet to be worked out, my guess is that a policy of zero cut on public lands and no clear cutting on private lands will be the result of emerging science and a closer look at the data underlying the Clinton forest plan.

The gap between what is considered politically possible and what may be ecologically and legally required could open to an enormous chasm. The timber industry and many Northwest politicians already consider option 9 ridiculously restrictive. If the existing laws are to be enforced, and if species now existing are to survive well distributed across their range, then probably all logging on federal land must stop, and restrictions on private land logging imposed. To replace the missing timber volume a total ban on log exports must be imposed.

Who will pay the bill?

Forest activists are fond of quoting Aldo Leopold who said that the first law of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces. Unfortunately, most people took this as only a metaphor. We now face the fact that it is literally true. If light touch or selective logging had been adopted years ago maybe we could keep on logging, but the refusal of agencies to simply obey the laws has brought about a train wreck.

The question that will be faced in the coming years is who will bear the pain and damage of years of over logging? Will it be the general public in the form of higher housing prices? Will taxes be raised to restore the forests? Will large holders of private lands give up part of their increased profits from high wood prices and begin to pay fair income taxes and property taxes? Or will we decide to abandon our laws that protect species and simply allow many to go extinct? Our dilemma is that while only 20% of the American public understands the concept of Biodiversity loss, and only 11% believe that deforestation is a problem in the US, the problems in our forests are far worse that the public knows and even worse than forest activists have been saying. There is no easy fix. The bill for many years of mindless deforestation is coming due and the only question is who is going to pay for it.

Well, so much for the good news; here's the bad news. The reaction to date of federal, state and local governments to the "gridlock" and "crisis in the Northwest woods" is dismaying. The existing damage in the forests requires a host of scientists and other federal employees to begin repair and restoration, but the Forest Service is discharging the biologists, hydrologists and others who would supervise and do this work. Now that deforestation is coming to an end, the need to keep scientists around to give logging schemes a patina of respectability is also ended. The Siskiyou Forest has laid off or will lay off probably over 50% of its labor force to save approximately 5 million dollars. It will soon be as underfunded and short staffed as the National Park Service.

"Jobs" programs will mostly enrich real estate speculators

Simultaneously, the federal government is falling all over itself to fund a variety of sewer plans and industrial development schemes to, it claims, create jobs, jobs, jobs to help the poor timber workers. Follow the money: these dollars will never ever help unemployed timber workers. The endless parade of economic development, infrastructure improvements, and community development will simply be a handout that will directly benefit the very same people who profited from the liquidation of public and private forests. They will be given free water and infrastructure to develop their hitherto undevelopable lands into condominium complexes, industrial parks and other schemes that no sensible person would ever fund with their own money. One simple guideline that would stop 90% of the schemes in the pipeline (which unfortunately is not legally possible, but we can dream) would be to forbid any community development money from going to people or companies who have been exporting logs or clear cutting forest or who have personally profited from the deforestation that has already occurred. Unfortunately the endless scurrying around and feeding of powerful extractive and development interests occurs underneath rocks, and the general disinterest of the public to such matters insures that the rocks are never turned over.

While the deforestation of the Northwest has been suspended for an indefinite period and a new phase may well be beginning, the public, our elected officials and many in the environmental community remain focused on the symptoms and surface manifestations of our many environmental problems. At some point we must deal with the underlying forces that create our environmental problems, but that day seems very far off in the future.

  1. Kalmiopsis Audubon Society - Storm Petrel Newsletter
  2. Researcher Note: The Clinton Forest Summit was a step on the path of the Northwest Forest Plan, aka (NWFP), or Clinton Forest plan (CFP) and the many associated studies and reports with their formal and informal names and abbreviations e.g. Forest Ecosystem Assessment Team (FEMAT), Interagency Scientific Committee, Option 9, Scientific Assessment Team (SAT), "God Squad", Zero Cut and "gang of four". The lead scientist for these studies and the head of the FS throughout was Jack Ward Thomas aka J.W. Thomas) who unraveled all these in 2003 at http://www.fs.fed.us/r5/nwfp/plans/sus.shtml. Other articles of mine on this are at: Zero Cut, Clinton Forest Summit, Clinton Forest Plan, Option 9 Analysis, Clinton Forest Plan impact on Siskiyou Forest

#64, (v 1.3) 3/14/11

©1994 Jim Britell
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