WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, seeking to address the fears of both loggers in the Pacific Northwest and conservationists who want to preserve the region's majestic old-growth forests, yesterday announced a long-awaited compromise that drastically limits annual logging but also pumps $1.2 billion of job training and other economic assistance into the region.
"We know that our solutions will not make everybody happy," the president said at the White House. "Indeed, they may not make anybody happy. But . . . we're all going to be better off if we act on the plan and end the gridlock and divisiveness."
Mr. Clinton's prediction was swiftly realized.
Environmentalists said they expected better from a Democratic administration, especially one whose vice president is the author of a book called "Earth in the Balance."
"We don't think much of this plan," said Debbie Sease, legislative director of the Sierra Club. "We're pretty disappointed."
Timber industry officials also denounced the plan and predicted they would try to fight it in Congress and the courts.
"They've spent 90 days developing a solution that will leave us exactly where we were when it began -- in court-ordered gridlock," said Barry Polsky of the American Forest and Paper Association.
Seeking middle ground
Mr. Clinton visited Oregon's logging country last fall in the final weeks of his presidential campaign. There, he listened to the impassioned complaints of dislocated workers, as well as the fears of frustrated nature lovers. He vowed then to come back and hold a "Forest Summit," a promise he kept on April 2 on his way to a Vancouver summit with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.
At the end of the eight-hour session that day, chaired by Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the president said he would have a report on his desk within 60 days that would commit the federal government to a unified set of policies.
White House officials said yesterday that the reason for the one-month delay was the shockingly low estimates on the potential timber yield from the region, estimates that put the Clinton administration in an even worse bind than it anticipated.
"The downward revision in just the last few weeks left a very narrow range of options if we wanted to get this out of the courts and get people moving again," the president told reporters after the announcement.
Beginning in the 1970s, Congress began requiring terrific yields in board feet off the federal forests -- yields that were unsustainable. After prodigious clear-cutting in the 1970s and 1980s, 90 percent of the old-growth forests were gone.
That fact, coupled with sweeping technological improvements in logging techniques and the logging companies' practice of exporting raw logs to Asia instead of milling them in the United States, ended tens of thousands of jobs in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
The ire of logging families was not directed principally at the big logging companies, however, but at environmentalists and the previously obscure northern spotted owl.
Two years ago, a federal district court imposed a virtual moratorium on logging in ancient forests after a lawsuit to protect the owl's threatened habitat was filed under the auspices of the Endangered Species Act.
The most crucial features of yesterday's plan included:
* Creation of 10 ancient forest reserves ranging up to nearly 400,000 acres, designed to protect the old-growth forests. But as a concession to industry, thinning, experimental logging and the salvaging of damaged trees will be allowed inside the reserves.
* Limiting the annual harvest to 1.2 billion board feet, far below the Gold Rush-like days of the late 1980s, when the harvest was running upward of 4 billion board feet each year.
* Establishment of a Northwest Economic Adjustment Fund and the
diversion of federal job retraining money to displaced workers or devastated logging towns. The amount for the coming fiscal year is put at $270 million, with the administration saying it will spend $1.2 billion over the next five years. While conceding that some 6,000 logging jobs would be lost, the administration says it would create 8,000 jobs with this fund.
* The signing by the president yesterday of a law prohibiting the export of raw logs from state-owned land. The president also said he would push for a change in federal regulations and tax codes that actually subsidize U.S. companies that export raw logs cut on private land.
* Easing of some restrictions of logging on private lands that surround spotted owl habitat.
* Ensuring that the six major federal agencies involved -- agencies that have often battled each other in court in the past -- work together from a single blueprint.
Unity in the face of anger
As a show of solidarity, Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt left together for the Northwest to explain the president's program to critics.
They certainly have their work cut out for them.
Bob Spence, president of Pacific Lumber and Shipping, fumed yesterday that the Clinton administration's board feet limits "will prompt higher lumber and housing prices, stall the economic recovery and cause double-digit unemployment in already stressed rural communities."
At the same time, environmental groups wondered whether the protections being offered are strong enough.
"The basic theme of the protection plan is it creates these ancient forest reserves, which is a good thing," said the Sierra Club's Ms. Sease. "But what it allows to go on in those reserves defeats the purpose."