Ideological schism leads to a personal feud

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  Randal O'Toole and Jeffrey St. Clair aren't exactly household names. But tree-huggers know the pair as former publisher and editor of Forest Watch, a now-defunct national monthly. It folded last August after a decade covering the West's national forests.


Forest Watch had been an especially reliable source of information on the crisis in the Northwest forests. It was a successful collaboration between O'Toole, the moderate economist, and St. Clair, the left-leaning environmentalist. They produced some of the best analysis of President Clinton's Forest Conference in Portland in a special issue last summer.


Now the two are back in the publishing business, but this time they are using new podiums to attack each other. The fracas started in September with charges of stolen checks, changed locks and missing mail. The dispute got so nasty that Andy Kerr, the conservation director at the Oregon Natural Resources Council, was brought in a couple of months ago to mediate the fray - as well as sort the mail.


In the first issue of his new magazine, the 30-page Wild Forest Review, St. Clair goes for O'Toole's jugular. O'Toole cleaned out the former Forest Watch offices, he charges, threatening to "sue us for everything we had." St. Clair goes on to say this "isn't much, since he (O'Toole) took all of Forest Watch's subscription revenues and grant monies back to his Oak Grove, Ore., compound."


St. Clair longs for the old days, when O'Toole was doing groundbreaking in-depth reviews of national forest plans and publishing the noted book, Reforming the Forest Service (Island Press, 1987). It exposed below-cost timber sales.


O'Toole, meanwhile, has his gripes. He says St. Clair has held back his mail and checks, a charge that prompted Kerr to mediate. He is also critical of St. Clair's editing of Forest Watch. Last month O'Toole mailed a letter to each of his 1,000 subscribers, retracting and apologizing for articles concerning Clinton's forest plan - known as Option 9 - that appeared in the August 1993 issue. St. Clair wrote and edited that issue.


"Jeff used the August issue to personally attack several prominent forest scientists and environmental attorneys without giving them a chance to respond, or even interviewing them," O'Toole says. O'Toole's letter included an angry response from lawyers Todd True and Vic Sher of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund. They said they were upset with St. Clair's accusation that the fund had sold out on an ancient forest deal with President Clinton.


For several years Sher and True have been on the front lines in the fight over Northwest forests. The legal defense fund, which is not affiliated with the Sierra Club, represents a dozen environmental groups that have successfully employed a strategy of using the federal courts to block timber sales in old-growth forests. These cases resulted in findings by Federal Judge William Dwyer that the government's timber sale program routinely had broken environmental laws, and created the impasse which the Clinton plan attempted to resolve.


While environmentalists have praised the lawyers' work, some criticized them last August when they agreed to a deal with Clinton in which certain timber sales could resume in exchange for the administration's promise to protect the groups' right to continue filing lawsuits.


The dispute continues to divide conservationists (HCN, 12/27/93). On Jan. 31, for example, The Oregon Natural Resources Council reversed its position: It now opposes all logging on federal forests in the Northwest.


O'Toole, meanwhile, is distancing himself from extreme views. He says he shut down Forest Watch because it was losing money and because it no longer represented his more moderate opinions about forest policy.


O'Toole has introduced his own 60-page magazine, Different Drummer, that honors Henry David Thoreau as the nation's first environmentalist, and discusses federal programs ranging from Social Security to international affairs.





* Paul Koberstein





The writer lives in Portland, Oregon.





Wild Forest Review, published by James Monteith and edited by Jeffrey St. Clair, comes out 11 times a year. A subscription costs $25. The address is Save the West Inc., 3785 SE Milwaukee, Portland, OR 97202. Different Drummer is a quarterly; a subscription is $21.95. It is published and edited by Randal O'Toole, Cascade Holistic Economic Consultants, 14417 SE Laurie, Oak Grove, OR 97267.