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Know the West

Salvage logging squeaks by Senate

 

By a razor-thin margin, the Senate agreed March 30 to suspend environmental laws in order to expedite salvage logging in national forests.

An attempt by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to replace the amendment of her fellow Washington senator, Slade Gorton, R, with a milder one failed 46-48. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., cast the lone Democratic vote to table Murray's amendment, which also called for expedited salvage logging but did not suspend environmental laws.

Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, now a Republican, originally voted for the Murray amendment but flip-flopped after being cornered by other Senate Republicans (see box).

A House-Senate conference committee will now rectify differences between the separate budget recision bills passed by each chamber. The House passed a similar amendment which calls for the salvage logging of more than 6 billion board-feet over the next two years (HCN, 4/3/95).

The debate on the Senate floor was as hot as a summer wildfire. Gorton declared that the issue boiled down to the question, "Do we care at all about the people who live in timber country ... or do we only care about the well-being of certain environmentalist organizations and their lawyers?" reported the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Murray said Gorton's measure would "allow agencies to build roads in pristine roadless areas and harvest trees along Wild and Scenic River corridors."

Environmentalists employed every tactic in the book to dissuade Congress from passing the logging riders.

On March 27, Andy Kerr, executive director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, and Earth First! co-founder Mike Roselle were arrested and charged with criminal trespass after protesting the bills in front of the Portland office of Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.

"If mainstream environmentalists like me can't have their day in court and are locked out of the process, we have nowhere to go but into the radical arms of people like Mike Roselle," said Kerr, who says his only previous brush with the law was a speeding ticket. "We're not going to say, "tough luck for the forests, I guess I'll just go watch the O.J. trial." "

Other attempts to block salvage logging were more traditional. The Pacific Rivers Council published a report from eight university scientists in the region denouncing the fire crisis as hype and urging Congress to go slow on salvage logging because of its potentially devastating impact on soils and wildlife habitat. And more than 50 biologists, ecologists, geologists and wildlife scientists sent a letter to President Clinton, blasting the proposal to waive environmental laws protecting fish and wildlife.

Five Forest Service smokejumpers criticized the legislation at a press conference in Washington, D.C., March 29. "Most firefighters die in brush fires, and the liquidation of timber creates more brush, not less," said Joe Fox, a forest biologist who was a member of the search-and-rescue team that recovered 14 bodies following last year's Storm King Mountain fire in Colorado.

"These bills are a cynical attempt by the timber industry to use the deaths of courageous firefighters to clearcut the public's forests," Fox said.

Despite their efforts, including a massive traditional lobbying effort, environmentalists found themselves on the short end, clinging to the slim hope that President Clinton might veto the bill. Still, some see a silver lining: "There's a potential here to organize and rebuild the environmental movement," said Kerr. And civil disobedience, he said, will be one of the tools. "It's going to be a hot summer."

For a free copy of the Pacific River Council's report, Wildlife and Salvage Logging: Recommendations for Ecologically Sound Post-Fire Salvage Logging and other Post-Fire Treatment on Federal Lands in the West, call the council at 503/345-0119.

A sidebar article, How Western senators voted on the Murray amendment, accompanies this news story.