December 15, 1996 in Nation/World

Craig Proposal Met By Doubts Little Consensus For Changing National Forest Management Act

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Congress can stop the endless conflicts over logging, mining and other uses of national forests and grasslands.

At least that seems to be one of the great hopes for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s proposal to rewrite the National Forest Management Act.

And the momentum for this legislative overhaul? Everyone agrees Congress needs to fix up the management of federal lands, Craig said when he unveiled his massive draft bill last week.

“No one from any walk, profession, interest group or point of view provided any testimony that suggested Congress need not act to fix the situation,” Craig said of his 15 hearings last year on forest management. That may speak more about the witness list than it does of a new dawn of compatibility.

The original National Forest Management Act was hatched to give the Forest Service legal authority to clearcut after the agency lost court battles over 70 years of illegal clearcutting.the time the law was passed in 1976 it went much further, requiring things like long-term planning.

Craig’s proposed rewrite limits citizen appeals and lawsuits and claims to ensure a predictable supply of timber from federal forests. It relaxes requirements for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management compliance with several major environmental laws. The Craig law adds massive requirements to study how reduced federal logging affects natural-resource dependent communities.

Outside of the timber industry, however, there is little consensus for such sweeping congressional action. Or for the notion that legislation can end the acrimony over who gets what from the public lands.

“I call it the Vietnam bill,” said an employee at one federal agency who didn’t want to be named. “We have to burn down the village in order to save it.”

Even people who don’t take a position on the bill worry about the notion that Congress can fix what supposedly has gone wrong with public land management.

“You can write the best law in the world,” said Arthur Cooper, who helped the Forest Service write the National Forest Management Act regulations. But “you can’t force me to accept your view.

“That can’t be done by law, it has to be done by patient negotiation.”

Cooper, a professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, says he has not studied Craig’s bill and is keeping an open mind. But he doesn’t buy the notion that the National Forest Management Act is broken.

When it comes to logging and other natural resource decisions, “those who disagree have refused to sit down and discuss their differences in a meaningful way,” Cooper said. “They think they have more to gain from fighting than compromise. And that comment is directed at the industry, environmentalists and politicians.”

Craig’s bill will lead to more fighting, not less, critics say, even though Craig emphasizes this is a starting point.

“The idea that we are going to do this and live happily ever after is nonsense,” said Robert E. Wolf, a forester who worked for the Congressional Research Service and helped draft the original National Forest Management Act. “I think the way this bill is drafted, it will lead to more controversy, not less.”

Some of that controversy will include allowing states to apply to manage Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management ground. The bill doesn’t address what will happen to the thousands of federal employees and related federal buildings if the switch takes place, Wolf said.

There is nothing about who will assume responsibility for dealing with toxic wastes on some of the federal ground. Such items could be addressed later, because Congress would have to approve the management transfer on a state-by-state basis. Critics see this as an invitation for huge battles, not fast-track relief.

The act calls for a $10,000 fine for frivolous appeals. Who will decide that question? some ask. “I don’t think anybody files an appeal, in reality, they think is frivolous,” Wolf said.

The Craig bill also sets tougher standards for who can appeal. Raising the hurdles never has stopped the most determined from appealing, critics warn.

As it stands, however, the National Forest Management Act is a mandate for a bottleneck.

“Almost from the day the ink was dry on the plans, they are being changed, so the plans have proven meaningless,” said Jim Riley of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association. “There’s a huge government bureaucracy and they produce one planning document after another and there’s no real action.

“We squander huge amounts of taxpayer dollars on government agencies arguing with each other.”

Environmentalists contend the problem isn’t with the plans. It’s the fight over how much logging is allowed.

The timber industry is angry if it isn’t allowed to force the Forest Service to sell the maximum, said Kevin Kirchner, vice president of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

“I emphasize ‘allowable,’ in allowable sale quantity,” Kirchner said of the Forest Service term for logging levels. “They emphasize ‘sale.”’

Now the Craig bill also emphasizes sale, he said.

The Forest Service and BLM aren’t saying much publicly about the Craig bill. Still, they contend they can do the job right with the tools they have.

“In many respects we have all of the administrative authority we need to address many of the concerns Sen. Craig attempts to deal with in his bill,” Lyons said. Congress sometimes creates more conflict in the course of trying to legislate it away.

“I think Congress tried to do that last session with the salvage rider and it created more conflict” because it cut the public out of the decision process, Lyons said. The conflict on public lands also may have more to do with rapidly changing public values than with existing law, he said.

“Where there used to be a lot of focus on timber and mining and commodity production, now we see a lot of pull for fish and wildlife and water,” he said. “That creates conflict.”

Even so, people are going to have to change if they want results instead of fights, says Cooper, the North Carolina State forester.

“In my opinion, the people that are largely doing the complaining enter the planning process with the idea of accomplishing their personal objectives,” he said.

“They need to respect the needs of all of the parties using the resources.”

Congress can stop the endless conflicts over logging, mining and other uses of national forests and grasslands. At least that seems to be one of the great hopes for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s proposal to rewrite the National Forest Management Act.

And the momentum for this legislative overhaul? Everyone agrees Congress needs to fix up the management of federal lands, Craig said when he unveiled his massive draft bill last week.

“No one from any walk, profession, interest group or point of view provided any testimony that suggested Congress need not act to fix the situation,” Craig said of his 15 hearings last year on forest management. That may speak more about the witness list than it does of a new dawn of compatibility.

The original National Forest Management Act was hatched to give the Forest Service legal authority to clearcut after the agency lost court battles over 70 years of illegal clearcutting.the time the law was passed in 1976 it went much further, requiring things like long-term planning.

Craig’s proposed rewrite limits citizen appeals and lawsuits and claims to ensure a predictable supply of timber from federal forests. It relaxes requirements for Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management compliance with several major environmental laws. The Craig law adds massive requirements to study how reduced federal logging affects naturalresource dependent communities.

Outside of the timber industry, however, there is little consensus for such sweeping congressional action. Or for the notion that legislation can end the acrimony over who gets what from the public lands.

“I call it the Vietnam bill,” said an employee at one federal agency who didn’t want to be named. “We have to burn down the village in order to save it.”

Even people who don’t take a position on the bill worry about the notion that Congress can fix what’s supposedly gone wrong with public land management.

“You can write the best law in the world,” said Arthur Cooper, who helped the Forest Service write the National Forest Management Act regulations. But “you can’t force me to accept your view.

“That can’t be done by law; it has to be done by patient negotiation.”

Cooper, a professor of forestry at North Carolina State University, says he has not studied Craig’s bill and is keeping an open mind. But he doesn’t buy the notion that the National Forest Management Act is broken.

When it comes to logging and other natural resource decisions, “those who disagree have refused to sit down and discuss their differences in a meaningful way,” Cooper said. “They think they have more to gain from fighting than compromise. And that comment is directed at the industry, environmentalists and politicians.”

Craig’s bill will lead to more fighting, not less, critics say, even though Craig emphasizes this is a starting point.

“The idea that we are going to do this and live happily ever after is nonsense,” said Robert E. Wolf, a forester who worked for the Congressional Research Service and helped draft the original National Forest Management Act. “I think the way this bill is drafted, it will lead to more controversy, not less.”

Some of that controversy will include allowing states to apply to manage Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management ground. The bill doesn’t address what will happen to the thousands of federal employees and related buildings if the switch takes place, Wolf said.

There is nothing about who will assume responsibility for dealing with toxic wastes on some of the federal ground. Such items could be addressed later, because Congress would have to approve the management transfer on a state-bystate basis. Critics see this as an invitation for huge battles, not fast-track relief.

The Craig bill also sets tougher standards for who can appeal. Raising the hurdles never has stopped the most determined from appealing, critics warn.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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