Burned Biscuit and Political Roadless gravy?

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at hotmail.com
Tue Jun 8 17:00:35 EST 2004


Tuesday, June 08, 2004   Oregonian
Politics hold sway in Biscuit logging, wilderness plan 
A careful strategy in an election year leads to a protection effort
while cutting into roadless forests
 
by MICHELLE COLE and MICHAEL MILSTEIN 
Nine days before the U.S. Forest Service announced an unprecedented
blueprint for restoring slopes burned by the Biscuit fire, the
president's point man on national forests slipped into Portland to
share sushi with a political adversary.

Inside a private tatami room at the Sinju Restaurant in the Pearl
District, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey told Josh Kardon, chief
of staff for U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, of the government's decision to take
truckloads of blackened trees from the Siskiyou National Forest. The
plan for the first time would allow loggers into roadless forests in
the Lower 48 states set aside by President Clinton.

That is just the sort of approach that earned President Bush low marks
from environmental groups and Democrats such as Wyden. But Rey had
brought a sweetener, something that Wyden and Gov. Ted Kulongoski had
been pushing for: more protected wilderness.

Politics weigh into every federal decision but never more so than in a
presidential election year. And never more so than when a few key
states, Oregon among them, could determine whether Bush is re-elected.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore carried Oregon by 6,765 votes.

Senior White House officials say Bush was updated on the plans for the
Oregon forest blackened in 2002.

The meeting with Kardon in the tatami room reflected a careful
strategy designed to dissuade Democrats from blasting the plan the day
it was unveiled.

"It was our hope that if we showed them how we made some changes in
response to their suggestions, they would show us, if not support, at
least some recognition of good will," Rey said.

And it proved initially successful. Wyden and Democrats offered
qualified acceptance of parts of the plan. Environmental activists --
whose influence helped shape forest policy for more than a decade --
were knocked off balance.

Those who navigate the intersection of politics and management of
public lands agree the Biscuit plan reflects skillful maneuvering that
may win the president precious Oregon votes in November. It appeals to
both those eager for logs to feed Oregon sawmills and those who favor
land protections, said Tim Hibbitts, a Portland pollster.

Chris Wood, a top policy adviser to former U.S. Forest Service Chief
Mike Dombeck, put it another way: "This is a clever stroke."

But Rey isn't counting votes yet. 

"The politics of it are still to be determined based on how people
respond to the proposal we've cast," he said in an interview Friday.
"We won't know whether it's politically beneficial until we see what
the outcome is."

The president took an interest in the Biscuit fire while it was
burning.

In August 2002, he flew over the largest wildfire to strike Oregon in
more than a century. In a Central Point speech, he advocated a "common
sense" approach to protecting forests while providing jobs. The White
House has watched closely ever since.

"I have been from time to time keeping track of the work of the Forest
Service in the follow-up to that fire, because it was obviously a key
component in the president's Healthy Forest Initiative," James
Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental
Quality, said Friday.

Federal foresters would take nearly two years to draw up plans for one
of the biggest offerings of federal timber in recent decades. Trees
were decaying, losing value, bit by bit. Behind the scenes a Biscuit
plan evolved that might carry a different value: pleasing Oregon's
diverse voters.

"We're always concerned about both the political realities and the
social realities," as well as other issues, Forest Service Chief Dale
Bosworth said. "We certainly want to have a project that is sound from
both the ecological and social standpoint, that appeals to a broad
spectrum of people."

Timber that will be plucked from slopes by helicopter may help satisfy
the rural parts of the state that voted strongly for the president.
Bosworth stressed the logging would not involve building new roads
into undisturbed forests.

Putting new wilderness off-limits may not play well in rural Oregon,
which depends on timber for income. But the wilderness suggested with
the Biscuit logging is burned over and remote. And it is something
Oregon's governor wanted.

After a weekend trip to the Siuslaw National Forest, Kulongoski called
together his natural resources advisers.

"We'd been talking about the Biscuit for months," said Steve
Schneider, the governor's deputy chief of staff. "He came back and
said, 'I think we really need to encourage the Forest Service to put a
wilderness piece into (its plan).' "

In the following months, Kulongoski's advisers talked regularly with
Rey, a former Republican Senate aide and timber industry lobbyist.
They never hinted of it to conservation groups for fear they would
disrupt the sensitive discussions.

"We didn't want to really signal to anybody that this was coming from
our office," Schneider said. "We thought that the prospect of the feds
including this wilderness proposal could have been in jeopardy if we
were out there thumping on our chest that this is what the governor
wanted."

Rey said he was open to adding lands integral to the Kalmiopsis
Wilderness, a rugged region of unusually diverse species occupying the
core of the burn area.

Though he had fought behind the scenes for it, Kulongoski called the
wilderness provision insufficient. And Republican Sen. Gordon Smith,
who is heading President Bush's re-election drive in Oregon, was
silent, declining comment except to say his attentions for the Biscuit
were focused on healthy forest management.

Still, the wilderness proposal left environmental activists who have
rallied against Bush -- including his plans for the Biscuit fire -- in
an awkward position. If they oppose his Biscuit package, they also
oppose new wilderness in an area they had lobbied for years to
protect.

If it makes perfect political sense, it doesn't surprise those who
know Rey.

"He's a strategist, and he's a pragmatist, and he's a realist, and he
knows nothing happens in a vacuum," said former Forest Service Chief
Jack Ward Thomas. "He plays a very strong game."

The administration also adopted a suggestion from Democrats to split
the logging proposal into three parts: parcels routinely open to
cutting, older forest reserves and roadless. If one is held up by a
court challenge, the others may proceed.

Although Forest Service leaders said decisions following the Biscuit
fire were made by local foresters and not dictated from Washington,
Rey helped make sure the political pieces fit together.

"I'm sure the Forest Service contributed to the product, but the
Biscuit proposal is vintage Mark," said Kardon, Wyden's chief of
staff, who was joined at the restaurant by Regional Forester Linda
Goodman and a Wyden staff lawyer.

"It's really quite clever," Kardon said. "If the environmental
community sues on all three components, the Bush re-election team will
be ecstatic. If the environmental community sues on only one or two of
the components, he will have helped produce jobs, and the Bush
campaign will still blame Democrats for jobs failing to materialize."

Between now and the election, Oregonians will hear much more about
logging in roadless forests and wilderness protections.

Kulongoski wants more wilderness included. Activists and the governor
fault the Biscuit plan for taking more than half of its wood from
regions without roads.

About 58.5 million acres of such forests were set aside by Clinton
administration protections, now in question because of court rulings.
Conservationists say those areas should be left alone, with logging
targeted elsewhere.

"The Forest Service had an opportunity to demonstrate tremendous
leadership, get a slew of sticks out, and they would have satisfied
their critics and would still have had one of the biggest timber sales
in years," said Wood, now vice president for conservation at Trout
Unlimited. "Instead, it's going to be tons of litigation."

Scott Conroy, the Siskiyou National Forest supervisor presiding over
the Biscuit plan, oversaw development of Clinton's roadless
protections nationwide. Yet he said he has no problem with the
proposed Biscuit logging today because it avoids the most vital areas
and considers local needs.

"When you look at different scales you can come to different
conclusions," he said.

The wilderness recommendation that emerged with the logging plan would
require action by Congress. But there is no legislation in the works
proposing additions to the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. Conservationists
doubt it is anything more than an election year ploy.

"It was just part of a press statement, and it doesn't mean anything,"
said Jay Ward, conservation director at the Oregon Natural Resources
Council. "The wilderness proposal on this is like vapor."

Connaughton on Friday said the White House would listen to what
Oregonians have to say.

Then, he said, it would be "teed up for the president" to make a
recommendation to Congress. "The president has a general sense of
what's coming."

That includes not only a fate for the Biscuit burn but also an
election.

"All things are political," said Thomas, the former Forest Service
chief and lead author, in 1994, of the Northwest Forest Plan, which
governs logging. "If you live in a democracy, then political opinions
have to come into the equation.

"It would be rather bizarre to pretend they don't." 

Comment by poster: I guess we're seeing the opening shot in the battle
of the Biscuit. We've got some employees working there, right now.
It'll be fascinating to see how all the science and political
wrangling will go on inside and outside the courtroom. All the heavy
hitters will be there and I'm pretty hopeful of a compromise instead
of a confrontation.

A portion of the public still erroneously thinks that logging is
banned in designated roadless areas. Even the official "Forest Plans"
call for suitable roadless areas to produce timber volume, without
roads. "Clinton's Folly" only provided a minimal additional amount of
protections for the already designated roadless areas.

Both sides will have a short period of time to prepare and present
their cases. Judges have been directed to weigh the long term benefits
with the short term impacts. Another new rule pushes the legal process
along with deadlines. The new rules for the courts seem to favor the
Forest Service. Will the judge consider jobs to be a part of those
"long term benefits"?

Larry,    a true environmentalist



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