President’s Forest Plan:
The Gridlock Continues

BACKGROUND

In April, 1994, the Clinton Administration formally adopted its plan to resolve the debate over how to manage federal forests in the Pacific Northwest and northern California. As an outcome of the President’s Forest Conference held in Portland Oregon, a team of scientists known as the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team, worked in secret for nearly three months preparing a report. The administration published a draft plan in July, 1993, for which it received over 100,000 public comments. In December, 1994, one federal court judge ruled that the President’s Plan was legal, because there is another court challenge to the plan. the gridlock continues.

ISSUES

  • 1. The President’s Plan does not adequately balance the needs of forest health, ecosystem diversity and economic stability.
  • 2. As a result of changed forest policy, federal timber sales have been reduced by 78% from historic sustained levels, causing economic upheaval throughout the Pacific Northwest. Lack of access to federal timber has caused mill closures, lost jobs and failed businesses. Bankrupt local governments cannot support education, infrastructure and social services funded by a local tax base heavily reliant on tax revenue from timber sales.
  • 3. The plan places disproportionate emphasis on forest habitat for maintaining viable fish populations through extensive watershed and riparian reserve systems.
  • 4. The plan requires implementation teams that are in addition to current government agencies already working on these issues, and these teams are not adequately funded to take on the tasks designated in the plan.
  • 5. There is no consideration given in the plan to future domestic demand for wood products, nor the consequences of sourcing wood from foreign sources to meet demand. Most of these international timber suppliers are from countries that have minimal, if any, environmental laws governing natural resources. As such, the consumer pays more for the finished product, domestic timber resources are limited, and foreign trade imports are increased unnecessarily and at global environmental risk.

ANALYSIS

Preservation vs. Ecosystem Management

The plan prescribes management of 24 million acres of some of the world’s most productive forests, with less than 3 million acres (12%) available for any regulated timber harvesting. Twenty-one million acres (88%), is preserved in wilderness, old-growth reserves, riparian areas, administrative withdrawals and experimental areas. If the plan were true ecosystem management, it would manage the entire landscape with the goal of maintaining and improving forest health, ecosystem diversity and economic stability.

Regional Economic Crisis

The plan dramatically reduces the federal timber supply by 78% from historic sustained levels. It is also a major reduction from New Forest Management Plans prepared in the late 1980’s as directed by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). The federal timber program historically has provided 40% of the region’s wood supply, directly employing 100,000 people at family-wage jobs. Forest product manufacturers spend millions of dollars in local communities on services, supplies and taxes. Without federal timber sales, entire communities are threatened as their single source of employment and tax revenue vanishes. It was this extreme situation and economic distress that led the President to convene his Forest Conference in Oregon in 1993.

In the President’s Plan, estimated job losses only include direct employment from the forest industry and ignore the support and services sectors. A conservative estimate is that for each direct job lost there is at least one indirect job lost. Furthermore, the administration used a base line for its analysis that ignores job loss that resulted from court injunctions that have halted timber sales for three years. Buried in the plan’s tables and text is a total job loss estimate of up to 84,000 jobs from the new plan.

Overemphasis on Forest Habitat

The plan falsely assumes that forest habitat is a critical factor in maintaining viable salmon and other fish populations. The plan proposes an elaborate watershed and riparian reserve system that unduly burdens scientific forestry activities. The reality is that fish harvest levels, dams, hatchery programs, marine mammal protection, ocean currents and agricultural practices all play a prominent role in maintaining fisheries populations.

Added Government Bureaucracy and Costs

The newly created bureaucracy includes new planning and oversight teams, which are in addition to what is required by the National Forest Management Act, Federal Lands Policy and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws. Furthermore, the Administration is not receiving or asking for enough funding to implement the plan. The 1994 budget was $57 million short of what agencies say they need to do the work required by the plan, the 1995 budget was $111 million short, and the trend continued in 1996

Environmental Risks and Growing Consumer Demand

Environmentally, the plan overlooks the world’s growing demand for wood and paper products. Severely reducing the supply from one of the most productive regions in the world with the most progressive forestry regulations anywhere has the potential to harm forest ecosystems in other countries that have little or no environmental protection. Furthermore, the impacts on consumers have been overlooked. As prices for lumber and paper products increase, consumers will be forced not only to pay more, but to utilize energy-intensive and non-renewable resources.

Failed Promises To Northwest Communities

The Administration promised a number of actions to relieve the gridlock between the forest industry and environmental protectionists during the Forest Summit. First, there was the agreement to immediately provide two billion board feet of timber supply. This volume has not been forthcoming.

What volume has been sold has included a high percentage of submerchantable, which is only good for wood chips and firewood. The plan calls for 90 percent to be merchantable sawlogs. In reality only about 60 percent is meeting that standard.

The administration has proposed an administrative rule under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act that would establish guidelines to protect the northern spotted owl on non-federal lands. A draft rule calls for major restrictions on some forest landowner activities; hurting rather than helping some non-federal landowners.

No new money within agency budgets is allocated to implement these proposed programs. Existing funds, already stretched due to recent hurricanes, floods, fires and earthquakes have been reprogrammed. Reductions in the federal timber supply will also drastically reduce the receipts to the federal treasury and payment to local county governments.

Violation of Federal Laws

The administration violated the federal open meeting laws by meeting secretly with a select group of specialists that did not reflect the public’s interest on a variety of viewpoints. In federal district court, the administration admitted it did not conduct an open and balanced planning process because it was not interested in listening to scientists with different views on forest management and ecosystem protection. As a result, the range of scientific information considered and reasonable alternatives analyzed, were severely limited. Thus, the President was unable to make an informed decision that could have benefited the public and the valuable forest ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  • A) Re-establish a federal timber sale program that would again provide sawlog size timber to Pacific Northwest mills.
  • B) Re-establish a forest management planning process that returns decisions to experienced professionals and local concerned citizens instead of a few hand-picked experts and academicians.
  • C) Relieve private and public forestlands of burdensome Endangered Species Act requirements.

 

Source: Northwest Forest Resource Council, April 1997