Environmentalists wanted Forest Service rules changed so they could bid on national forest timber sales and protect the trees, rather than cut them.
The Clinton administration turned them down.
“The government just hung a big sign on the entrance to our national forests. It reads, ‘No Saw, No Stumps, No Service,”’ Mitch Friedman, executive director of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance in Bellingham, said Wednesday.
The alliance was among Western conservation groups that petitioned the Agriculture Department to change the rule that requires winning bidders to actually go through with proposed logging.
Bids on timber sales and land leases by non-industry groups are a new, but growing phenomenon in the Inland Northwest.
Agriculture Undersecretary James Lyons, who oversees the Forest Service, said he was rejecting the latest request to legalize “non-harvesting bids” partly because it would waste money spent to study the environmental impacts of proposed logging.
“While we find your proposal interesting and novel, we do not believe it is feasible,” Lyons said in a formal notice to Peggy Hennessy, a Portland lawyer representing the environmentalists.
The Forest Service spends significant amounts of money to assess the environmental consequences of logging, Lyons said.
“It would be a wasteful use of public moneys and contrary to the public interest to make such a substantial investment, only to later decide at the bidding stage not to proceed with the project,” he said in a May 4 letter.
In addition, some timber sales are intended to reduce fire risks and improve wildlife habitat conditions in addition to providing commercial timber for saw mills, noted Lyons, undersecretary for natural resources and environment.
“If a sale were awarded to a non-harvesting bidder, other benefits of that sale would also be forgone,” he said.
Non-harvesting bidders also might enjoy “an unfair advantage over bidders who are capable of and intent on harvesting because non-harvesting bidders would have few, if any, operating or personnel costs,” Lyons said.
Nevertheless, environmentalists are becoming more involved in timber sales and land leases.
For example, the Nature Conservancy earlier this year leased a 600-year-old grove of cedars on Moscow Mountain in Idaho.
It was a breakthrough in the Nature Conservancy’s attempt to protect state lands, and a coup for the community’s effors to preserve the huge trees northeast of Moscow.
“This is the first lease we’ve obtained in the state. We went to the Land Board and simply asked them to lease us the property to protect the forest,” said Mark Elsbree, conservancy Panhandle program director. “I think it is probably the oldest and highest quality example of an ancient cedar grove that we have in the state.”
But Friedman, a former activist for Earth First!, was dealing with U.S. Forest Service rules. Even though he submitted the high bid of $15,000 for a timber sale on the Okanogan National Forest last year, it was rejected.
“The government seems to view logging our national forests as a public service,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Arizona-based Southwest Center for Biodiversity, which also signed the petition to change the rule.
It costs taxpayers much more money to log national forests than to keep them standing, said Ken Rait, conservation director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council in Portland.
“As a taxpayer, it doesn’t make me feel any better that my forests were looted along with my wallet,” he said.
Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, said his group urged the administration to keep the rule.
“I don’t think anybody in their right mind would be willing to allow someone who has no intention of fulfilling the contract to be awarded the work,” West said.
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