Is it fix or nix for the salvage rider?

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Campaign politics and the prospect of widespread summer protests in the national forests are pushing President Clinton toward dismantling the salvage-logging rider he signed into law last summer.

Though the president has admitted before that he miscalculated the effects of the "logging without laws' bill, his actions in recent weeks have many convinced that a legislative fix is imminent.

On a late February tour of flooded Washington state, the president said that he wants to repeal at least the parts of the law that allow the cutting of healthy old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. A fact sheet released by the White House Feb. 27 outlines concerns about clearing ancient forests under the salvage logging portion of the bill. It calls on timber companies holding old-growth sales contracts to "hold off on any more cutting until we find another way to honor their contract rights."

Environmentalists are pushing for a total repeal of the salvage rider. They expect the president to negotiate with Western lawmakers in the next few weeks, devising language that will be attached to an unresolved spending bill. Already, Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore., has inserted a provision in the Interior Appropriations bill that would for a short time broaden the president's ability to buy out timber contracts or offer substitute timber for controversial sales. Similar language is in the House version.

But the Interior bill has been packaged with three other spending bills that need to be signed to avoid another government shutdown. As of this writing, it is unclear whether the president will veto the package.

"They want to fix it this spring before this whole thing blows up," says Steve Holmer, the Washington, D.C.-based coordinator for the Western Ancient Forest Campaign.

Environmentalists, furious because logging under the existing law is exempt from appeal, are worried about the extent of Clinton's changes. A fix that stops the most highly visible old-growth cutting in Oregon and Washington could blunt some of the criticism the White House has received since the salvage rider's passage last June.

But environmentalists are working hard to show that salvage sales in other parts of the country are equally bad. Through daily bulletins to activists and media, they have documented dozens of proposed sales, including some green-timber sales in roadless areas that the Forest Service has pulled off the shelf and repackaged as salvage sales. Most of the sales, according to the activists, will lose money and cause extensive damage to wildlife and water quality.

"For every ancient forest sale there will be another 10 salvage sales offered, and probably five of those will be bad sales," says Holmer. "The last thing Clinton wants is to be in California this summer - a state he really needs - and have everyone say, "well, you fixed things for the people in Oregon and Washington, but not for us." This thing is not going away."

So far, the environmentalists have convinced 126 members of the House to sign on to legislation sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., that would totally repeal the salvage rider. In mid-March, Democratic Sens. Bill Bradley, N.J., and Barbara Boxer, Calif., introduced a similar bill with eight cosponsors.

But the middle ground in the repeal effort may be forged by Washington Sen. Patty Murray, D, who has her own version of repeal which is backed by some environmentalists.

Murray's provision would return to citizens their right to appeal timber sales and sue the Forest Service. But, in a concession to the timber industry, it would also shorten the length of time the agency takes to approve salvage sales.

For more information, contact the Western Ancient Forest Campaign at 202/789-2844 or e-mail [email protected], or contact the White House at 202/456-1111.

Paul Larmer, HCN associate editor

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