For environmentalists concerned about public forests, this was supposed to the summer of dread. Timber companies, shielded by a salvage logging law, were expected to have a free-for-all on thousands of acres of roadless land. But now, with summer half over, environmentalists have reason for optimism. They may even salvage a victory.
Congress passed the
Emergency Salvage Timber Sale Program last year as an addition to
the Oklahoma City disaster relief bill. The so-called salvage rider
expedites the removal of "dead, damaged, or down" trees by
exempting these sales from most environmental laws, court appeals
and public participation. Backers of the controversial program
claim that these time-saving exemptions are needed to forestall
imminent fires and insect infestations. Environmentalists argue the
rider has also expedited the removal of healthy, living trees. They
call it "logging without laws."
unbeatable, the salvage rider has taken small hits from all three
branches of government in less than a month. "It took time for
public opinion against the logging rider to rise to the surface,"
says Steve Whitney of The Wilderness Society. "But it did."
The most effective blow came from the executive
branch. In a July 2 memo, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman
directed Jack Ward Thomas, chief of the Forest Service, to make
sure that "emergency" logging is truly emergency in
Glickman recommended greater public
participation, prohibited most sales in roadless areas, and
required the Forest Service to document the percentage of dead vs.
green timber and provide a "clear explanation and rationale for
harvesting the green volume." Any sale containing more than 25
percent living trees must undergo further scrutiny, he added. The
directive is a stop-gap until an inter-agency review of the salvage
program presents its findings next month.
secretary's directive had an immediate impact in Idaho, where on
July 3 the Boise National Forest reclassified its proposed Deadwood
Salvage Sales as non-emergency sales. This proposal to log in a
roadless area must now go through the normal environmental review
"This is a major victory for the
conservation community, wildlife and wildlands," responded John
McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League. Out of hundreds of
emergency salvage sales in the West, Deadwood was only the third to
be shelved, but the first following Glickman's action. The Inland
Empire Public Lands Council, a Spokane-based environmental group,
estimates that at least 26 sales are now eligible for cancellation.
The directive came on the heels of a close vote
in the U.S. House of Representatives to de-fund the salvage rider.
Sponsored by Reps. Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., and John Porter,
R-Ill., the amendment failed by a hair's breadth, 209-211, on June
20. Heartened by the near-win, environmentalists are gathering
support for a similar amendment in the Senate.
Also in June, the judicial branch successfully
constricted the logging allowed by the rider. Though best known for
speeding up salvage logging, the rider also reopened green timber
sales originally offered under a 1989 logging rider known as
Section 318. Some of these sales contain nesting habitat for the
marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird (HCN,
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals moved
to protect the murrelet by canceling 45 percent of these 318 sales
- more than 4,000 acres of Northwest old growth. That's good news
for environmentalists, but "the (ruling) on the murrelet does not
solve the problems caused by the rider," said Jim Jontz, executive
director of the Western Ancient Forest Campaign. "In fact, the
problems are only beginning."
That's because the
lost 318 sales must, in the words of the salvage rider, be replaced
by "an equal volume of timber, of like kind and value." How will
the Forest Service provide that timber? The agency admits it's just
beginning to figure that out. "They've known about (the
requirements of the rider) since last summer," counters Chris West
of the Northwest Forest Association, an industry group. "They
shouldn't have any problem - there's lots of (sales) out there that
won't jeopardize the endangered species."
unclear whether any of the replacement sales will occur before
Section 318's exemption from most environmental laws expires Sept.
30. The salvage component of the rider runs until the end of the
year, or until Congress decides to revoke its
Or another possibility: Congress may
give the salvage rider a second life. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho,
has spearheaded an effort to retain the rider's key features in a
permanent salvage timber program. His proposed Federal Lands Forest
Health Protection and Restoration Act hasn't hit the floor of
Congress, but it cleared committee on June 19, the day before
environmentalists lost their vote in the House.
* Jared Farmer,