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Congress Poses A Serious Threat To Wildlife Areas

Thu., Jan. 18, 1996

Congress has been getting away with murder as it guts laws that protect fish and wildlife.

The Republican majority is inflicting the most hideous threat to fish and wildlife since the turn-of-the-century campaigns to wipe out bison and wolves.

The riders these so-called conservatives are attaching to otherwise sound bills are as lethal as guns, traps and poison.

Here are a few examples.

Oil insult: A rider to allow oil drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge continues to be attached to an unrelated national appropriations bill.

The coastal plain has been shown to be one of the single most important wildlife areas in North America because of the 180,000 caribou that migrate there each summer to calve.

It’s home to a who’s who of rare creatures, including musk oxen, polar bears, wolves and a summer invasion of birds, some of which fly halfway around the world to nest in that region.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, who has waved everything from oosiks to knives in the faces of those who question his motives, has proposed this insult so Alaska can continue to suckle the oil teat for another generation.

This is a national wildlife refuge, but the shots are being called in Alaska, where oil speaks louder than science. Remember, Alaska residents continue to get an oil profits check for nearly $1,000 each year, basically so the oil companies always have their ear.

Silencing science: Rep. George Nethercutt has recommended a hold on scientific research seeking answers to the watershed of problems facing fish and wildlife in the Columbia River Basin.

The Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project was launched in 1994 with bipartisan support and is now in the final phase. It was to be the scientific foundation for decisions that affect logging, grazing and other practices on 75 million acres of public land in seven Northwest states.

By cutting the funding now, Nethercutt is taking the bread out of the oven 10 minutes before it’s baked.

One aide said Nethercutt doesn’t want a one-size-fits all policy to cover all the forests in the Columbia River drainage. On the other hand, Nethercutt has supported a categorical exemption of environmental laws to allow so-called salvage logging, regardless of the environmental prices individual drainages might pay.

Salvage hoax: This emergency salvage logging exemption was passed in July as another gutless rider to an otherwise solid appropriations bill. Passage was the culmination of a multimillion dollar PR campaign launched last year by the timber industry.

The law is a hoax, written by the industry in order to cut trees without public involvement or obeying laws designed to protect fish and wildlife.

The Forest Service was authorized to allow salvage logging not only for fire-damaged trees, but also for diseased trees and “associated trees.”

In that broad context, judges have subsequently ruled that virtually any timber sale can be considered an emergency.

A glaring example of the hoax is in our backyard.

The Gatorson timber sale was proposed in 1988 in a 7,000-acre roadless area along the Kettle River in the Colville National Forest. Citizens have won three administrative appeals and two court decisions to stop the sale and protect it’s roadless values and mule deer habitat.

But the salvage logging rider has revived the Gatorson sale. The roadless area could fall to the chain saws within a week, even though the area is timbered with undamaged green trees.

As if the public needed another slap in the face, the timber has been sold at an insulting price.

Forest Service figures from a 1995 study show that the average price for the Colville’s timber was $65 a thousand board feet in 1991, $129 in 1992, $114 in 1993 and $226 in 1994. The prices began to plummet last year as a glut of timber came onto the market.

Now the Republicans are allowing loggers to plunge into the roadless Gatorson area, bypassing environmental laws, for a pitiful $27 a thousand.

Pretty poor business for a bunch of conservatives who have vowed to bring fiscal responsibility back to government.

Discounting wildlife: The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Resources inserted a few lines in the 1995 Farm Bill that would greatly weaken the protection of wildlife in the national forests.

Section 604 of the Farm Bill would prohibit the Forest Service from amending management plans and activities in order to maintaining viable populations of fish and wildlife. The National Forest Management Act’s “viability” requirement is the primary regulatory safeguard for fish and wildlife habitat in the national forests.

Ironically, all of these insults are being inflicted as salmon runs continue to decline, as mule deer herds dwindle, as massive landslides caused by building too many roads in fragile drainages bury fish spawning areas in the region’s national forests.

Anglers will return this summer to some of their favorite cutthroat trout streams only to be greeted by the disbelief and depression of seeing their childhood homes reduced to ashes.

This is not a feeling Nethercutt will share with us. He does not hunt or fish. He doesn’t camp or own a cabin in the woods.

No wonder he doesn’t care.

, DataTimes MEMO: You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

You can contact Rich Landers by voice mail at 459-5577, extension 5508.

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