The Senate voted Thursday to keep special rules in effect to speed logging in national forests, rejecting a plea from President Clinton to restore fish and wildlife protections.
Despite intense lobbying by the Clinton administration, senators voted 54-42 against repeal of the “timber salvage rider,” which the president reluctantly signed into law as part of an emergency spending bill last summer.
In a letter Thursday, Clinton urged Congress to repeal the provision “as soon as possible.” Republicans accused him of playing up the issue to court environmentalists during an election year.
The floor fight pitted Western Republicans who want to speed up national forest logging against Democrats who fear the expedited timber harvests pose a threat to the environment.
The amendment from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would have reinstated most of the environmental protections that were temporarily waived last year in an effort to remove dead and dying wood from fire-prone forests. The suspension lasts through the end of 1996 and could be extended.
The amendment also would have blocked the logging of thousands of acres of centuries-old trees in Oregon and Washington that the Forest Service previously sold to private contractors.
“The rider was legislative overkill on the environment,” Murray, D-Wash., said during the floor debate.
“This Congress reignited a war in the woods of the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere,” she said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said, “A bill described endlessly as a good-government plan to prevent catastrophic fires and insect infestation turned out to be a Trojan Horse that would allow the lawless logging of healthy, green, old-growth forests.”
But Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., lead author of the logging law, said Murray’s proposed replacement would bring logging to a standstill and put more loggers and mill workers out of work.
“This amendment is a prescription for an end to all timber harvests in national forests in the Pacific Northwest,” Gorton said. “Her definition of salvage is so tight there will be no salvage.”