Bucking strong opposition that includes the governor of Oregon, the Clinton administration has picked a controversial old-growth timber sale in the heart of a roadless area as its first major offering under the President's Northwest Forest Plan.
The Sugarloaf sale on the flank of Grayback
Mountain is one of 21 sales the administration will allow in
old-growth reserves created by the plan. To Julie Norman, president
of the Ashland, Ore., group Headwaters, the sale "is the first ...
and the worst," based on a survey of
The 669-acre sale, which includes
trees 700 years old, was auctioned in 1989 and subsequently
protected from legal challenge by Congress, so it did not have to
comply with standards in the administration's new regionwide
The plan - famously or infamously - is
supposed to protect the coastal ecosystem that includes remnant
ancient forests in Washington, Oregon and northern
Conservationists in southwest Oregon
had fought the Sugarloaf sale for a decade. Now, they say, they've
run out of options.
"I thought I had a promise
from (Assistant Secretary of Agriculture) Jim Lyons, but I guess it
was a hoax," says Norman.
Norman contends that
Lyons, along with Siskiyou Forest Supervisor Mike Lunn and Regional
Forester John Lowe, broke a promise to reevaluate the sale. Norman
says she was told the sale would be redesigned after a survey by an
independent forester found two cutting units included far more
old-growth trees than the agency had
But when Lowe and Lunn awarded the
Sugarloaf sale to Boise Cascade Aug. 22, it was virtually
Pressure to move the sale forward came
from over the head of Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas,
Norman said opponents
of the sale knew the area well and had done their homework.
Forester Greg Harty of the Public Forestry Foundation found that 40
percent of the timber volume in the sale - 4.2 million board-feet -
would come from trees 46 inches or greater in diameter. The Forest
Service had estimated that only 1.2 million board-feet would come
from such large trees. Although Assistant Agriculture Secretary
Lyons said "only a few old trees' were slated for logging, the
Forest Service's follow-up survey found more than 1,000 trees over
46 inches in diameter were marked for
The Forest Service says the Sugarloaf
sale has been designed to protect the environment. It will require
Boise Cascade to log selectively and to remove the 10.5 million
board-feet of timber by helicopter. The roadless character of the
area will be preserved and forest health will be improved, the
Forest Service says.
David Perry, professor of
ecosystem studies at Oregon State University's Department of Forest
Science, scoffs at that notion.
Perry wrote to
Lyons twice in August urging him to rethink the Sugarloaf sale.
Fragmenting a 600-acre stand of old-growth trees and taking large
numbers of healthy older trees could jeopardize the integrity of
the forest, as well as the survival of a pair of northern spotted
owls, Perry says.
"Cutting old trees under the
guise of improving forest health will only fuel the cynicism among
scientists and environmentalists about Forest Service motives,"
Perry says. "Presently, that cynicism is getting in the way of real
measures to improve forest health, and it sure as hell doesn't need
Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts became
involved in the dispute over the sale because her administration
had picked Grayback Creek, which drains the area set for logging,
as one of two watersheds the state plans to invest millions in to
restore stream banks.
"Our concerns include the
potential for continued degradation upstream as we spend
restoration funds downstream," wrote Anne Squier, Roberts' natural
resources aide, in a letter to Regional Forester
Laurie Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the
Clinton administration's Office of Forestry and Economic
Development in Portland, says the administration is doing its best
in an environmentally sensitive way to meet past commitments to
log. "This was a very, very tough call," she says. "Nobody in the
administration is happy about it."
questions why Clinton appointees feel so bound to deliver on a
logging plan developed during the Bush administration. "This
undermines all the thinking that went into the Clinton forest
plan," she says. On Sept. 7, Lyons called her, Norman adds, but
only to say he thought the Sugarloaf sale had been adjusted and the
concerns of critics addressed.
there's still time for the Clinton administration to take a second
look and decide that a key watershed needs preserving. "We need a
presidential pardon," she
For more information,
contact Julie Norman of Headwaters, P.O. Box 729, Ashland, OR 97520
(503/482-4459), or Siskiyou National Forest, P.O. Box 440, Grants
Pass, OR 97526 (503/471-6500).