Clinton proposal on forestry issue not well received


WASHINGTON -- All sides in the bitter fight over the future of the Pacific Northwest agreed that President Clinton got at least one thing right: His timber plan seems to be making nobody happy.

"We can preserve the jobs in the forest and we can preserve the forest," Mr. Clinton insisted yesterday. "The time has come to act to end the logjam, to end the endless delay and bickering and to restore some genuine security and rootedness to the lives of the people who have for too long been torn from pillar to post in this important area of the United States."

Coming nearly three months after the president convened the Forest Conference, his proposal aims at both protecting the region's remaining ancient forests and supporting endangered species while permitting logging in public forests and pumping even more federal money into economic relief for the region.

But the Northwest's logging industry, politicians, labor unions and environmentalists quickly registered their disappointment with the plan. And nearly all are vowing to carry on their battles either in the courts or on Capitol Hill.

Such moves would threaten to continue the deadlock that has beset the region for years. Environmentalists and their supporters have been pressing to preserve the remaining ancient forests and endangered or at-risk species such as the spotted owl, while timber interests and their congressional allies argue that logging is the economic lifeline of the region.

Thrown into the mix have been federal agencies and departments at odds with one another -- creating even more confusion that helped lead to a 1991 federal court ban on all logging on federal lands that resulted in thousands of lost jobs. The administration will have to submit its plan to a federal judge later this month for approval.

Despite seeking to sell the plan as a "fair and balanced" one that gives all parties the opportunity to work together for the future, Mr. Clinton finds himself faced with the political risks that accompany compromises on divisive issues.

As detailed yesterday, Mr. Clinton's plan would set up forest preserves that would cover about 80 percent of the old forests. The proposal is restrictive enough to need no exemptions from existing environmental laws, but would allow loggers to cut dead or dying trees and thin out overcrowded live trees.

The proposal also calls for limiting cutting on federal lands to an average of 1.2 billion board feet, less than one-third the yearly harvest during the 1980s.

But the president wants to devote $1.2 billion over five years for such measures as economic development grants, small business zones, job retraining and environmental projects.

But union and timber industry representatives lashed out -- saying the plan would destroy the already damaged economy in the Northwest.

Mr. Clinton also signed a bill into law yesterday blocking the export of raw logs from state lands, something already banned in federal forests, to try to increase jobs in domestic timber processing.

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