Since it became law four months ago, the salvage logging rider has proved a mixed blessing for the timber industry, an embarrassment to the administration and a rallying point for environmentalists.
Often called the worst
environmental legislation to emerge from the 104th Congress, the
salvage law could soon become a litmus test for President Clinton
and lawmakers hoping to distance themselves from the GOP's
counter-legislation: a repeal bill introduced Dec. 7 by Rep.
Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., and Rep. Connie Morella, R-Md. It would
halt action by the Forest Service to accelerate the sales of dead,
dying and disease-prone timber on national forests. It would also
allow environmentalists to once again appeal salvage sales and to
take the Forest Service to court. The bill had 55 co-sponsors by
mid-December, including four moderate Republicans.
The timber industry says the law doesn't need to
be repealed, just implemented faster and with less bureaucracy.
"The Forest Service hasn't sped things up enough," says Bob
Blanford, a resource manager for Louisiana-Pacific. "There's still
some sentiment within the administration not to sell timber ...."
But timber companies have failed to bid on
several of the sales offered in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.
Critics say that proves industry doesn't need the timber.
Environmentalists contend that to make the sales more enticing, the
Forest Service is using the salvage rider to offer
once-unacceptable sales at a loss to taxpayers, including many
sales with large amounts of green timber or in roadless areas.
"I don't think the industry ever wanted sales
that require the use of expensive helicopters to take out
fire-blackened timber," says Andy Stahl, executive director of the
Association for Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.
What industry really wanted, he says, was to use the rider to punch
roads into roadless areas and thereby foreclose the wilderness
Because the typical methods of
challenging timber sales have been suspended, environmentalists
have staged protests and increased forest monitoring as the first
sales trickle out. They have also tried the courts - unsuccessfully
Grassroots groups such as Montana-based
Citizens Against Lawless Logging, a group that formed the day after
the rider passed, began beating the drum for a repeal almost
immediately. But it wasn't until November, when Clinton said he
would seek a legislative fix to the bill he had vetoed once before
signing, that activists began to believe they could make it
Clinton's distress over the bill was
directed at a court decision which found that the rider also
mandated the sale of dozens of healthy, old-growth forests in the
Pacific Northwest, including tracts the President had protected
under his 1993 Northwest Forest plan (HCN,
Furse picked up on this theme when she
introduced her legislation Dec. 7: "Members of Congress were
misled. The rider was supposed to be an emergency management
measure to protect the health of the forest by harvesting dead and
dying timber. But instead, it's being used to clear-cut healthy
forests - some as old as 500 years."
Environmentalists hold a slim hope that Clinton
will slip legislation repealing the rider - partially or even
totally - into the ongoing budget negotiations with the Republican
leadership. A total repeal faces a tough battle in the
GOP-controlled Congress, especially since some Western Democrats
say they don't want to waste time on an already decided issue. Many
think Clinton will simply try to fix the worst part of the law
dealing with the Pacific Northwest, an important region for him
during the next election.
"That's not good
enough," says Andy Kerr of the Oregon Natural Resources Council.
"The whole damn thing needs to be repealed."
Chris West of the Northwest Forest Timber Association, any talk of
a repeal is "pure politics. The administration knew what was in
this bill from the start."
Whether members of
Congress truly misunderstood the scope of the bill, those eager to
prove themselves friends of the environment during an election year
may use that argument to justify switching their vote. It's up to
environmentalists to put the heat on the legislators, says Kerr.
"All these guys are is weather vanes. It's our job to make the wind
blow the right way."
Elizabeth Manning and