Stunned environmentalists Friday accused President Clinton of the ultimate sellout by agreeing to a budget-cutting bill that suspends logging laws.
“President Clinton … is responsible for the most evil betrayal in our country’s conservation history,” said John Osborn, president of the Spokane-based Inland Empire Public Lands Council.
“We warned him there would be holy hell to pay if he did it and we plan to deliver,” Osborn said.
The salvage logging bill is not a done deal. It hit a snag late Friday when Majority Leader Bob Dole pulled the bill off the Senate floor in a dispute with liberal Democrats over GOP-backed spending cuts.
Dole, R-Kan., yanked the bill off the floor and questioned whether it ever again would come up for a vote.
Nevertheless, conservationists continued their assault on Clinton’s credibility, saying he had promised to reject any legislation with environmental exemptions. They said they can’t trust the administration to remain in compliance with the laws.
The timber provision would give the U.S. Forest Service 18 months to sell enough burned and diseased timber, mostly in the West, to build 300,000 new homes. Citizen challenges of sales would not be allowed.
Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Reps. Charles Taylor, R-N.C., and Norm Dicks, D-Wash., pushed the salvage program.
“We think President Clinton has sunk to the level of Slade Gorton,” said Julie Reitan of the Sierra Club in Seattle. “This is one of the biggest assaults ever on our forests.”
Gorton could not be reached for comment.
Timber lobbyist Doug Crandall in Washington, D.C., said the legislation is the first ever to address the forest health crisis. In addition to aiding forests sickened by disease and insects, the measure also would resume the flow of logs through the federal timber pipeline - clogged for three years by environmental challenges.
Conservationists charge the timber measure is so broadly written that healthy trees in pristine roadless areas would be lost.
“Timber companies just took over the White House today,” Osborn said.
The industry predicts that salvage logging will generate up to $1 billion in revenues.
But former Congressional Research Service executive Bob Wolf of St. Leonard, Md., forecasts a $1 billion loss to taxpayers. Salvage timber sales generally cost more money than they bring in because of expensive helicopter logging requirements and cheap prices for deteriorating wood.
Wolf also said the timber market would be flooded with so much wood, the Forest Service would be forced to give it away.
“It’s going to be a financial and silvicultural disaster,” said Wolf, who has tracked federal timber sales for four decades.
Crandall of the American Forest & Paper Association agreed the market is glutted and that prices have bottomed out. But he blames slow housing starts and Canadian producers for flooding the U.S. market.
Ken Kohli, a spokesman for the Coeur d’Alene-based Intermountain Forest Industry Association, said the Forest Service has grossly inflated the value of diseased and burned timber.
But he said Clinton’s blessing of the salvage measure will “provide needed relief” to timber communities in the northern Rockies.
“The current federal timber bureaucracy is completely bound up by the glue of partisan political agendas,” Kohli said.
Clinton, in a Thursday letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pledged his full support to ensure up to $4.5 billion board feet of trees are logged by December 1996.
“I want to make it clear that my administration will carry out this program with its full resources and a strong commitment to achieving the goals of the program,” Clinton wrote.
The president won back the support of conservationists last month when his first veto blocked spending cuts for education and the timber provision.
The veto was the first time that Clinton had acted and not just talked about safeguarding the environment, several environmentalists said.
One Spokane conservationist boiled his frustrations of Clinton down to three words: “He’s a joke.”
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