A salvage logging bill co-sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus triggered cheers and jeers from the timber industry, environmentalists and Sen. Conrad Burns on Wednesday, one day after it was introduced.
Burns, a Republican, weighed in with the timber industry, charging that the bill will waste trees in the national forests and cost jobs.
Environmentalists came down on both sides.
“President Clinton has allowed his administration to become hijacked by short-sighted fringe environmentalists who cannot see the forest for the trees,” Burns said in a news release from Washington, D.C.
“Timber communities need the economic stability and physical safety this Congress gave them, not a dagger in the back as they walk away from the table.”
Burns threw his support to a different proposal offered in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday by two Republican senators, Slade Gorton of Washington and Mark Hatfield of Oregon.
The bill introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and co-sponsored by Baucus, D-Mont., would modify a controversial salvage law passed last year.
The 1995 legislation allows the Forest Service to speed up salvage logging of trees hit by insects, fire or wind. The law bars citizen appeals of such timber sales. The timber industry says environmentalists have used appeals to stall sales.
But environmentalists argue that the law is a cloak for passing off questionable logging without review. They say the salvage sales often include healthy trees.
The Murray-Baucus bill would reinstate a shortened appeals process and tighten the definition of salvage logging.
In Montana, the Forest Service has sold 62 million board feet under the existing salvage law and plans to sell 233 million more.
“This bill would ensure that these sales rot on the stump,” said Seth Diamond, of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association.
Baucus’ natural-resource specialist, Kurt Rich, disputes that.
The bill outlines a four-month planning process and two-month appeal process. That still allows for quick salvage logging, but includes the public, he said.
“In the past year, salvage logging legislation has led to polarization in the state,” Rich said. “What this bill does is stake out a good middle ground.”
Whitefish environmentalist Bob Heim, of the Montana Wilderness Association, said the Murray-Baucus legislation would close loopholes that allow green sales to be passed off as salvage.
The bill also limits new roads to be built in roadless areas to half a mile in length. Heim says he would prefer no new roads at all but appreciates some limits.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, however, sees the Murray-Baucus bill as an attempt to undercut efforts in both the House and Senate to repeal the 1995 law.