A patchwork peace unravels

Renewed controversy threatens the truce of Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan

  • Timber sales on the Gifford Pinchot

    Diane Sylvain
  • An old-growth tree marked for cutting

    Chris Carrel
  • Clear-cuts at Swift Reservoir near the Limbo sale area - Try

    ky/LightHawk photo
  • Dave Werntz of Northwest Ecosystem Alliance

    Northwest Ecosystem Alliance
  • Old growth in the Gifford Pinchot

    Trygve Steen photo
  • Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor Ted Stubblefield

    USFS/Tom Knappenberger
  • Jerry Franklin, Forest Plan co-author

    Chris Carrel
  • Old growth in the Quartz Creek Roadless Area - Try


Note: a sidebar article titled "Ecosystem management hits 'Ice Bump' in the road" accompanies this feature story.

GIFFORD PINCHOT NATIONAL FOREST - Southwest Washington is baking under 90-degree August heat, but where Dave Werntz and I sit down for lunch, it is cool and dark.

Majestic firs and sturdy hemlocks block the sky, though occasional gaps in the forest canopy let shafts of sunlight reach the forest floor. A large hole in the forest roof offers a striking contrast between the crowns of green Douglas firs and blue-tinged noble firs silhouetted against a patch of ocean-blue sky.

Giants rule here, but insurrection is evident: Seedlings and young trees lean into scattered beams of light. Small movements and muted noises hint at unseen creatures. The forest brims with life, from deep in its soil to the tops of its tallest trees.

If the Forest Service has its way, 80 percent of these trees will soon be gone. We're sitting in Unit 10a of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest's 412-acre Limbo timber sale to be offered next year.

Orange ribbons of paint mark the few trees to be spared.

Werntz, a forest ecologist for the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, argues with himself over whether this grove is true old growth. The trees are a little youngish at 170 years average, he says, but the architecture and function of the grove is obvious. He'll call it old growth.

The term isn't academic. During the 1980s, environmentalists and the timber industry fought a battle over the Pacific Northwest's old-growth forests on the western side of the Cascades. At the time, the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management were liquidating the ancient forests under their care. In one record year, more than 5 billion board-feet of timber a year rolled from western Washington and western Oregon national forests.

Natives like the northern spotted owl, marbled murrelet, and several species of salmon lurched toward extinction. On their behalf, environmentalists sued the federal-land managers under the National Forest Management Act and sought Endangered Species Act listings. In 1991, Federal Judge William Dwyer shut down the federal timber program west of the Cascades until the agencies could come up with a spotted-owl recovery plan (HCN, 6/17/91).

Timber workers protested, formed yellow ribbon brigades and lobbied to repeal environmental laws.

Still, the Forest Service and BLM dragged their heels, and Judge Dwyer refused to allow logging until they acted. Powerful Northwestern congressmen, led by then Speaker of the House Tom Foley, blocked efforts to break the logjam politically. The result was gridlock.

In 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton brought loggers, conservationists and scientists together at a nationally televised two-day conference in Portland. After the conference, he directed a team of scientists to craft an ecosystem management plan for 24 million acres of westside federal forests in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

The Northwest Forest Plan, known as Option 9, was released in July 1993; it appeared to balance industry's demand for timber with environmentalists' demand for legal, science-based land management. At its heart was a blueprint for ecosystem management. The plan withstood initial legal challenges and was strengthened politically by an administration pledge to allow a cut of 1.1 billion board-feet per year.

Logging trucks began to roll again, and divisiveness dissipated like smoke. Ancient forests disappeared from the headlines.

Five years later, the plan is under renewed attack. Critics say its trade-offs sacrificed too much of the remaining old growth without producing enough timber. Sales like the Limbo are inspiring acts of civil disobedience, and conservationists are again filing lawsuits that could shut down the region. Meanwhile, small mills struggle to find sufficient federal timber to keep going.

The turmoil looks like regression in an era where consensus and science seem to offer have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too solutions for bureaucrats and politicians. Efforts like the Quincy Library Group and the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project have assumed that putting stakeholders and science at the table allows a balance to be struck. The Forest Plan could be seen as the granddaddy of such efforts. But what initially looked like a permanent peace in the Northwest may have been only a fleeting truce.

Eco-management in theory

The team of more than 100 scientists (known as the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team, or FEMAT) assembled after the Portland forest conference was given a daunting assignment: Maintain forest ecosystems while still allowing some logging.

The task was daunting in part because the westside forests were in sad shape. Like Dr. Frankenstein assembling a body, the team had only spare parts at its disposal. From Northern California through Washington, the national forests are riddled with roads and clear-cuts, creating a landscape as fragmented as the Amazon.

Working with these patchwork forests, the FEMAT team cobbled together a system of reserves, watershed protections and timber zones. It emphasized protecting large blocks of old-growth habitat, maintaining connections between forests and aquatic habitat, and allowing for a gradual regrowth of the cut-over forests.

The scientists put one-third of the land - about 7 million acres - into a category called Late Successional Reserves, each a mix of old growth, clear-cuts and young forests. The forest habitat within these reserves provides immediate safe haven for old-growth species, from spotted owls to tiny mosses. Additional habitat is in wilderness and reserves already in existence.

The expectation is that over centuries, as the young forest and clear-cuts mature into old growth - a process environmentalists are quick to point out is not assured - the late successional reserves will become intact old-growth habitat, allowing species to expand and inhabit the regrown forest.

Think of the LSRs, which are the same as ancient forest reserves, as the forest's vital organs. Think of another land category - the 4.85 million acres designated Matrix Lands - as connective tissue that the FEMAT scientists said could be logged, if done carefully, to preserve some species' habitat. Overall, the scientists said, species would have enough habitat islands, and enough land connecting those islands, to keep them from going extinct until the LSRs' cut-over lands could mature and provide vast amounts of additional old growth.

A third land category is called "streamside reserves," 150-foot to 300-foot buffer strips on either side of streams. Streamside reserves account for 2.23 million acres.

Aquatic protection was almost an afterthought, with 164 key watersheds grafted onto the plan. These watersheds, 8 million acres' worth, are protected by new logging rules and and buffer zones, and cut across across reserves and matrix lands.

The new land designations and logging regulations immediately reduced logging 80 to 85 percent below the 1980s level - a change unthinkable even 10 years ago.

"Over three-quarters of the federal timber base is off-limits," Forest Plan co-author Jerry Franklin says incredulously. "Great horny toads!'

Yet while Franklin says he is amazed at the decline, others are amazed at the kind of cutting that is still being done.

Too much cutting

Among those who think there is still too much logging are five Earth First! activists who in August chained themselves, one to the other, in the lobby of Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor Ted Stubblefield's office. Elsewhere in Oregon and California over the past year, activists have sat in trees and blockaded roads.

Environmentalists say that across the region too many old trees are being logged, both in the Matrix Lands and in the Late Successional Reserves. The Forest Plan, in fact, relies on old-growth logging to help meet timber targets in the Plan's first decade. While most of the old-growth logging is supposed to occur in the Matrix Lands, critics say more old-growth timber comes from the reserves than from the Matrix Lands between the reserves.

According to the ForestWater Alliance, a coalition of 21 forest and watershed protection groups, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management clear-cut 7,032 acres of ancient forest last year while logging another 7,872 acres within ancient forest reserves, plus 5,523 acres of forest in streamside reserves.

While the Forest Service believes that the 20,000 acres that ForestWater addresses is negligible in relation to the total land base, activists say the last of remaining critical habitat is being logged - an abuse of the rules that allow logging in reserves.

Four national forests are being hit especially hard. The Gifford Pinchot in Washington, and Oregon's Mount Hood, Willamette and Umpqua bear the brunt of Forest Plan timber targets, according to a review of Option 9 by Forest Plan co-author Norm Johnson of Oregon State University. In part, that is because forests like the Olympic National Forest on Washington's Olympic Peninsula have been so heavily cut there are few harvestable trees left. Too, the Olympic and other popular recreation forests with heavy urban constituencies have political protection; forests like the Gifford Pinchot do not.

Under the Forest Plan, nearly a quarter of the Gifford Pinchot's remaining roadless areas will be logged. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, by contrast, will only log 4 percent of its remaining roadless areas. The 1997 timber target for the Olympic, Mount Baker, Siuslaw and Siskiyou forests ranged from 13.5 million board-feet to 28.9 million board-feet; the Gifford Pinchot, Mount Hood, Willamette and Umpqua, on the other hand, hovered between 64 and 107 million board-feet.

As a result, the Gifford Pinchot in particular has drawn the attention of environmentalists. By the end of the year, according to the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance's Dave Werntz, the Gifford Pinchot will have cut more than 2,500 acres of old growth under the Forest Plan.

Back on the ground

I'm having lunch with Werntz in what may be a doomed grove. He knows the Gifford Pinchot well, having run spotted-owl surveys here for the Forest Service in the 1980s. It is hard to imagine that he once worked for the Forest Service. With braided blond hair, a light red beard and wearing Gore-Tex and tattered Lycra clothing, he looks the prototypical Northwest tree hugger.

Werntz says he decided to work outside the agency after an active owl survey "was obliterated by a timber sale." He earned a master's degree in forest ecology at the University of Washington before joining the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.

Werntz meets questions about the Forest Plan with answers that reflect scientific knowledge as well as a naturalist's feel for the land.

He's brought me here to see what the Limbo sale will do: It will drive several thousand feet of roads into a 12,000-acre stretch of unbroken forest within the key watershed of the Wind River drainage. At Paradise's western end, near Unit 10a, terrestrial values are at risk: large trees rooted in soft, vegetation-strewn soil, spotted owl nests, and potential grizzly bear habitat. At the opposite end of the roadless area, watery habitat is at risk.

Now, Paradise Creek is hidden among a thicket of brambles and rows of giant cedars and firs. The stream runs, lazy and cool, into small riffles and deep pools.

During a brief hike, we find three spotted frogs, a fat and healthy polliwog and hordes of water insects that form the lower end of the stream's food chain. Surprising numbers of baby steelhead, some barely an inch long, others pushing five inches, zip through the water.

The presence of these fish, listed as endangered, makes the logging of Paradise a judgment call. The National Marine Fisheries Service says logging the Limbo will harm the creek's steelhead. But agency biologists also concluded that mitigation and project timing will reduce the threat to the steelhead's "continued existence."

While the sale is within one of the 164 key watersheds listed for additional protection, this protection "exists on paper, not on the ground," says David Bayles of the Pacific Rivers Council. He cites the failure to remove the 8 million acres from the timber base as one of the Forest Plan's notable failures. Bayles believes the Forest Plan has brought important changes to forest management, but it has not done enough.

Werntz agrees. "The Northwest Forest Plan is the best thing we have. It's science-based; it has key watersheds. And the best thing you can come up with is something like the Limbo? It's like a thumb in the eye."

More than 20 similar roadless-area timber sales are in the works under the Forest Plan, according to a new report by the ForestWater Alliance.

New plan, same economics

Timber sales like the Limbo happen because the 80 percent timber-cut reduction took an unforeseen bounce within the Forest Service. With fewer board-feet available to fund the timber program, each sale becomes even more important. "The pressure to get out the volume is even more intense," says Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics. "They're selling 10 to 20 percent of the timber they were 10 years ago, but they're trying to maintain the same bureaucracy."

Although the on-the-ground rules governing timber sales have changed, selling timber is still the Forest Service's prime moneymaker, says Stahl.

In an age of declining federal budgets, the agency's perverse financial incentives lead it to save money by doing less to prepare for sales, even though the Forest Plan says the agency has to do more.

That corner-cutting on science has led to a new round of lawsuits aimed at where the agency is most vulnerable: the protection of 1,084 species that make old-growth westside forests their home. Because little is known about fully half of these species, federal biologists developed a complex and expensive "survey and manage" program that had to be done before logging and roading.

None of these requirements were arbitrary - they were part of an attempt to vault a legal bar. The Forest Plan made it over that bar, but barely. When Judge Dwyer lifted his injunction in 1994, he noted that the plan met legal requirements by a slim margin. For the plan to "remain lawful," Dwyer wrote, "the monitoring, watershed analysis, and mitigation steps ... will have to be faithfully carried out."

Now environmentalists say the Forest Plan has failed in the field. In July, 13 groups filed suit, charging that the Forest Service and BLM failed to allocate sufficient funds for the surveys, repeatedly missed deadlines, and did not publish required status reports on the survey and manage program. The result, they say, is that the timber program is moving forward with little attention to hundreds of species, from red tree voles to lichens and fungi.

There's not enough money in the Forest Service budget, though, to look for every species that might be lurking on the small land base being logged, responds Gifford Pinchot Forest Supervisor Ted Stubblefield. "We have folks crawling on hands and knees, turning over rocks looking for lichens that might be a smudge on a rock ... This is almost a black hole of money."

Stubblefield argues that the survey and manage requirement is an example of "minor problems in the plan that could be fixed with a few surgical strikes." His boss apparently agrees with him. Last March, Regional Forester Bob Williams asked forest supervisors to develop arguments for delaying and modifying the survey and manage program.

Environmentalists charge the agency with bait and switch.

"They thought they could do it back in 1994, when they wrote the rules," says Oregon Natural Resources Council's Doug Heiken. "This lawsuit is about whether they're going to follow through on the bare minimum they promised." The groups seek to halt the westside timber program until the agencies satisfy their concerns. They also want the plan revised to reflect changed circumstances, such as the heavy logging occurring in the reserves.

While the government has prevailed in most lawsuits volleyed against the plan, this latest "will be a real test," according to Tom Tuchmann, former head of the Regional Ecosystem Office, an interagency group overseeing Forest Plan implementation. If Tuchmann's informed opinion counts for anything, the timber supply from Northwest national forests might just be about to dry up again.

Where are the logs?

Industry officials say there's not much to dry up. They wonder what happened to the annual timber supply of 1.1 billion board-feet promised them by the Clinton administration.

Last year, Northwest federal forests produced the most timber they have since before the Dwyer injunction. At just over 900 million board-feet, though, they're still shy of the target. And if the Forest Service has its way, the 1.1 billion board-feet target will soon be abandoned. Acting on requests from nine of the Region's 13 forest supervisors, Regional Forester Williams has asked his headquarters for authorization to lower the region's timber target 10-to-20 percent. A decision is pending.

The administration promised to "ramp us down to the new" levels, says Chris West with the Portland-based Northwest Forestry Association. "They still haven't ramped up!'

The Gifford Pinchot is a good example. It was once the region's "timber basket," producing about 400 million board-feet of timber a year from 1980 to 1985. Under the Forest Plan, the Gifford Pinchot is only expected to sell 73 million board-feet a year, and supervisor Ted Stubblefield thinks even that is too high - he has twice requested lower harvest levels.

The problem is quality as well as quantity. Much of the timber provided by the plan comes from the thinning of young and other marginal forests. The timber industry, however, always prizes the huge volume of high-quality trees that come out of old-growth forests. An acre of classic old growth yields 30,000 to 100,000 board-feet of timber, while a young stand might contain half that timber volume, says Gaston Porterie, forest silviculturalist with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

"Old growth tends to have a large proportion of high-quality saw logs and peelers (for plywood)," says Porterie. Prior to the Northwest Forest Plan, a thousand board-feet of old-growth timber would fetch approximately $1,000, compared to just $300 for the same volume of timber from second-growth forests.

The lack of old growth forced a timber company, Van Port, Inc., in Boring, Ore., to close one of its three mills last year. Van Port is one of the few local mills still buying timber from the Gifford Pinchot, though not much of it. About 10 percent of the company's timber is federal, as opposed to 95 percent before the spotted owl litigation.

The Forest Plan "is more devastating than what we ever anticipated," says company forester Ed Harris. "We just keep getting cut back, and no one cares."

The Clinton administration attempted to ease the pain in timber communities by providing $1.2 billion in grants, loans, worker retraining and watershed restoration jobs. The money has created nearly 15,000 jobs and worker placements, according to the Regional Ecosystem Office.

It wasn't enough, says the Northwest Forestry's Chris West: "They created a bunch of temporary make-work jobs that didn't help out people who lost family wage jobs.

"I'm not saying it didn't benefit communities," West adds. Yet, "it's not what people in timber communities expected when they lost 80 percent of the timber supply."

The unseen revolution

From his book-cluttered office in the University of Washington's brick-lined forestry building, Jerry Franklin watches attacks on the Forest Plan with growing impatience. Franklin is one of the nation's eminent forest ecologists and a proponent of "new forestry" logging methods that go lighter on ecosystems. He served on the panel that developed the 10 options presented to President Clinton, and his fingerprints are all over Option 9, the one that became the Northwest Forest Plan.

The changes wrought by the Forest Plan have been "revolutionary," says Franklin, who looks the part of the university scholar, with short, graying hair, white mustache and wire-rim glasses. In the 1970s, Franklin explains, foresters assumed they would log all the "native forests except congressionally withdrawn reserves."

The Forest Plan brought land managers "to an emphasis on maintenance of native forests' biodiversity." Instead of just getting the cut out, the Forest Service and BLM now cut less while maintaining native ecosystems. Before Dwyer and the plan, environmentalists fought simply to save scraps of forest and favored hiking spots.

"It's a true landscape and ecosystem approach to managing the national forests," agrees Pacific Rivers Council's David Bayles. "This is really the only place where that's been done." While "environmentalists have trashed (the Forest Plan)," adds Bayles, "it's still the best forest management plan in the world - conceptually and because it's gotten us over the gridlock."

Though implementation hasn't been perfect, says Franklin, the Forest Service and BLM have better respected the spirit of the Forest Plan than environmentalists. The Forest Service, he says, has changed from a "timber organization" to a "forest protection" agency, with forest supervisors calling for lower cuts in order to meet the plan's requirements.

There's no better example than Gifford Pinchot's supervisor, Ted Stubblefield. As supervisor of the Olympic National Forest from 1985 to 1991, he oversaw devastating old-growth logging. Now, he's trying to lower the timber cut on the region's former timber basket.

"He's definitely not a raging greenie," says Gifford Pinchot Task Force president David Jennings. "When the rule was get the cut out, he got the cut out. (Now that) the rule is conservation and protection of the resource, he's wanted to do that."

Stubblefield himself praises the Forest Plan: "It makes a lot of sense to those of us who are foresters." And he worries that the attacks on the plan may cause us to "lose the baby with the bathwater."

Looking at the Limbo sale, Dave Werntz says, "I think the Forest Service wants it to work. They don't want to be bad guys anymore. They want to be part of something good."

Franklin is proud of his role in reforming the Northwest timber beast and he is displeased with environmental groups like the one that employs Werntz, his former student. He especially bristles at complaints about old-growth logging. "The scientific analysis said you didn't have to set aside all forests or even all old growth. They didn't like that!" he says, his voice rising.

How people see the plan depends on how much risk they're prepared to take with ecosystems. While none of the options offered certainty about preserving functional old-growth forests, Option 9 presents pretty good odds: a greater than 70 percent chance of maintaining late-successional ecosystems; approximately 82 percent chance of maintaining healthy populations of spotted owls; an 80 percent chance of the same for marbled murrelets. Other species, such as fungi and lichens, get much lower odds.

If more old-growth and roadless areas had been put off bounds to logging, all species would have been better protected, but then the timber cut would have fallen even further. Congressional opposition to a plan that promised only 1.1 billion board-feet was so great that President Clinton implemented it by executive order rather than face certain legislative defeat. Who knows what would have happened to a 500 million board-feet plan?

Tom Tuchmann notes that in the 1980s, national conservation groups were shooting for a 50 percent reduction in Westside timber harvest. Now that they've got an 80 percent reduction, they want more, he says. In his view, the green angst over the Forest Plan has more to do with a desire to end logging on national forests than it does with the merits of the plan.

It's not how much, but where and how you cut

Tuchmann is right about the national groups, but homegrown outfits have always been another matter. David Jennings, with the grassroots forest activist group, the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, recalls National Audubon Society vice president Brock Evans telling him that the Forest Plan signaled victory in the Northwest timber wars.

Jennings disagrees. "Where we're at now is just as critical as getting the big cut reductions," says Jennings. "We're looking at protecting major corridors between" surviving intact areas.

Numerically, less than 5 percent of the native ancient forest still stands, most on higher-elevation federal lands. Across the Pacific Northwest coast and lowlands, what remains of the once-vast forest is a patched landscape of clear-cuts, forest plantations and encroaching development.

When the Forest Plan made timber available by placing some old-growth and roadless areas in the Matrix, while attempting to grow ancient forests in the reserves, the scientists saw it as a balancing act - do enough cutting to satisfy timber demands while new old growth matured. From Jennings' perspective, that's more a plan for increasing fragmentation and extinctions.

In years past, environmentalists often invoked the metaphor of a shirt to explain the impact of logging on forests. Clear-cuts, they said, were like taking patches of cloth out of a shirt. Take enough patches out and the shirt falls apart.

The metaphor becomes literal from atop the 4,000-foot peak of Termination Point, several hundred feet from Limbo's Unit 10a. An awe-inspiring vista of Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Hood is diminished by a checkerboard of old clear-cuts written into the landscape in all directions. It's hard to tell if this forest is more shirt or more hole.

Before we leave the forest, Werntz and I visit Unit 9 of the Hardtime timber sale, a recently logged plot near the Paradise roadless area. It is not a poster child for the New Forestry practices that are supposed to treat the land in a kinder, gentler way.

The Hardtime sale sits on a gently inclining slope above the Lewis River watershed, home to bull trout, the latest Northwestern addition to the endangered species list. Under New Forestry, soil is to be protected by careful removal of logs, but the entire landscape here is crisscrossed by bulldozer tracks and log skids, compacting the earth and exposing most of the slope to the elements. A small grove of trees left uncut so that species can recolonize the cutover land was invaded by a bulldozer, had logs felled across it, and debris piled throughout. One of the standing trees bears a large gash in its trunk. Seedlings and vegetation lie bent and broken.

Next year, the grove in the Limbo sale, where this story opened, may look like this.

This forest doesn't sing with birds and insects. Dead vegetation outnumbers the living. Fine volcanic soil drifts upward like smoke wherever we step. The few trees left standing offer little shade, and the sun beats down, searing our skin even through clothing.

The damage flows out of the economics of logging. Clear-cutting became the preferred timber tool in the Northwest because of its short-term efficiency. The more time and money spent caring for the land, the less the profit. These obstacles to the "New Forestry" remain.

"This is what I call the nickel and diming of the Forest Plan," says Werntz, his voice edged with restrained disgust. He's seen similar transgressions, though none this bad.

As we climb the hill, with Werntz tallying violations, I ask him if it's better than a clear-cut. "Oh yeah, definitely," he says, without hesitation.

A successful failure

The ultimate test of the Northwest Forest Plan is whether it protects old-growth species like spotted owls and marbled murrelets. Owl scientists will convene this fall to determine whether spotted owls are still dwindling. While data on owl populations will soon become available, the federal government has been slow to monitor other species.

Because regrowing ancient forests is at the heart of the Forest Plan, it will be decades, at best, before its biological merits can be measured. But what about the plan's social success? President Clinton designed the Forest Conference to bring stakeholders together and, if not to get them to agree to solutions, at least to outline the problems that needed to be solved.

It's precisely here that the plan fails. "As much as I think it's working substantively," says Tom Tuchmann, "politically, there's still a segment that's fighting as hard for that remaining 10 percent of the timber sale program as they were for that 100 percent 10 years ago."

That is not just the fault of the combatants. The push to log the Northwest's national forests began after World War II. Unsustainable logging on western Washington and western Oregon's 18 million acres of commercial timber lands forced smaller mills to look to the national forests. When federal logging stopped, the little guys suffered. But it's the big guys, whose exports and overcutting helped wreck the Northwest timber economy, who are making out best under the Forest Plan.

"The federal government is taking the overwhelming share of the burden for protection of biodiversity," says Jerry Franklin. To extend its reach, the government has also approved a slate of fairly weak Habitat Conservation Plans (HCPs).

HCPs are land-use and species-protection plans that are applied to private and state lands. In return for the binding plans, the state and private owners are given 50-to-100 years of immunity from the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 8/4/97).

"It clearly cranked up the value of large corporations like Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek," says Franklin, who argues that the stability the plan brought to these lands is a largely overlooked benefit.

That benefit hasn't trickled down to the smaller mills that don't own large timber lands. The administration sought to direct some of the timber freed up by HCPs toward those mills. But as Tom Tuchmann wrote in a 1996 report to the president, "No progress has been made on this commitment."

While benefiting big timber over smaller mills, the HCP-Forest Plan axis is also generating environmental concern. "These things prop each other up," says Charlie Raines, a Seattle-area forest activist for the Sierra Club. "The Northwest Forest Plan assumes HCPs work, and HCPs assume the Northwest Forest Plan works."

The Endangered Species Act doesn't differentiate between federal and non-federal landowners, though, says Sybil Ackerman, who tracks HCPs from the National Wildlife Federation's Portland office. The decision to cover private and state lands with lighter regulations has more to do with political science than biological science.

From the other side, administration officials argue that getting any protection at all on private land is a minor miracle. It is an achievement no one would have expected a decade ago.

We threw the dice

While the scientists who drew up Option 9 believe that the forests can continue to lose some old growth, the risk they might be wrong weighs heavy on the Northwest.

Option 9 carries sizable extinction risks for many old-growth species and the potential for "a significant loss of biodiversity," according to a peer review by the Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Sciences. Lower cut options would have reduced the risk substantially.

Environmentalists desperately wanted permanent ancient-forest reserves. What they got was an executive order that could be rescinded with the next president.

And while the current administration promises a slow regrowth of ancient forests within the reserves and over the centuries, Northwesterners continue to watch the giant trees fall.

Having witnessed decades of rapacious logging and knowing that extinction is forever, many conservationists are simply never going to accept the Forest Plan.

Now, activists in Washington, Oregon and California are putting resources into wilderness campaigns that would permanently lock up some of the forests left unprotected by the plan. That, they feel, is the only forest protection that would finally end the Northwest timber wars. They don't trust good intentions; they don't intend to rely on promises.

Chris Carrel reports from Federal Way, Washington.

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