MARCH 18, 1996
Rod Minott of KCTS-Seattle reports on a new battle over logging old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest.
UNIDENTIFIED ENVIRONMENTALIST: I'm ready to go to my sacred place and invite all my brothers and sisters to come with me.
ROD MINOTT: Defining police orders, environmentalists recently marched up a logging road in the Olympic National Forest.
SPOKESMAN: You are subject to arrest beyond this point.
ROD MINOTT: In all, 89 arrests were made as protesters attempted to halt the clear-cutting of giant old growth trees on a piece of U.S. Forest Service land.
MAN: Hey, Ben, how come I keep finding you up a tree?
ROD MINOTT: One protester climbed a tree, hoping to escape capture.
UNIDENTIFIED SPOKESMAN: I mean, you all don't argue that clear-cutting of old growth is, is, you know, a practical way of forestry, do you?
ROD MINOTT: Others voiced outraged at being handcuffed.
PROTESTER: I did not hurt anybody, and I want these off.
ROD MINOTT: This scene is being repeated in national forests across the Northwest, which until recently had seen a truce in its war over timber. But some environmentalists say they have no choice but to break the law because of legislation Congress passed and President Clinton signed last Summer. It's known as the Salvage Timber Rider, which suspended some environmental protections and encouraged stepped-up logging of dead and dying trees. But the timber industry defends the special rider as vital to saving jobs. Chris West is with the Northwest Forestry Association.
CHRIS WEST, Northwest Forestry Association: The bottom line is if we didn't have some protection from litigation, we'd have continued gridlock. And the environmental community is upset because they can't use the courts to be obstructionists.
ROD MINOTT: With environmental laws on endangered species and clean water temporarily lifted, thousands of acres of federal forests in Washington and Oregon have been opened up to cutting through the end of this year. Supporters promoted the rider as a way to improve forest health, by allowing the logging of timber that had been damaged by fire or bugs. But one section, which had nothing to do with dead or dying trees, also required the government waive environmental laws in some areas so that healthy, old-growth trees could be cut.
STEVE WHITNEY, The Wilderness Society: Ostensibly, this was going to allow the harvest of dead and dying trees. Okay, well, sounds good. What happened was the day after the President signed the bill, the timber industry went into court and succeeded in getting a whole series of judgments that had the effect of, of expanding the scope of this logging rider.
ROD MINOTT: Across the country, it's estimated that 6 billion board feet of wood will be cut under the rider. Of that, about 600 million board feet of mostly healthy, old growth, will come from Northwest forests. By comparison, it takes about 10,000 board feet of timber to build the average home.
DAVE BUSE, Mill Owner: We've lost money the last several years trying to stay operating. Log shortage, price of logs, and, and, uh, the lumber market have all combined to, to make it real tough for not only us but most of the mills around this area that depend on public timber.
ROD MINOTT: For mill owners like Dave Buse, the timber rider comes as a relief. It's the 55-acre stand of old growth he's purchased rights to log in the Olympic National Forest that has been the focus of protests.
DAVE BUSE: Sales like this just give you that little lift out of the hole that sometimes make all the difference in the world to whether you survive or don't.
ROD MINOTT: Buse's logging is well underway. Some of the trees here are 250 years old. Until the salvage rider passed, this site, like many others, was off limits to cutting because of concern over harming fish and wildlife. Buse says he's taken extra steps to protect the sale from environmental harm, such as leaving a 50-foot buffer of trees along a stream that drains into spawning grounds for trout and salmon. But critics say any clear-cutting like this threatens fish and wildlife.
STEVE WHITNEY: What we're seeing under this rider, big, ugly clear cuts of ancient cathedral forests in the Northwest, this is the kind of thing that the rider has enabled and, umm, is really tragic because the consequences of it are that we're seeing the salmon streams running brown, we're seeing our formerly clean water being degraded. Quality of life here in the Northwest is a function of healthy forests. It's all--it's all going down the tubes, and it's because of this rider.
ROD MINOTT: But the timber industry continues to insist the clear-cutting poses little threat.
CHRIS WEST: The release of these existing sales may result in the harvest of ten to twelve thousand acres, which is a lot of land, but the President's forest plan covered twenty-four million acres, and nineteen million acres of that was permanently preserved and protected. So the harvest of ten to twelve thousand acres out of twenty-four million acres is just a drop in the bucket.
SPOKESMAN: Clinton, repeal the clear-cut deal!
ROD MINOTT: Environmentalists also remain angry at President Clinton for signing the salvage rider. To step up pressure for repeal, they recently staged a protest to coincide with the Seattle visit by the President. At a campaign event later that day, President Clinton said he had heard their message.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We've done a lot of good things in the last three years, and we made one or two--and we've made one or two mistakes under the law of unintended consequences, and one of them was the unintended and unwarranted consequence of the way that timber rider's been carried out. Patty Murray is going to help us fix it, and I thank her for that.
ROD MINOTT: despite that Presidential support, Sen. Murray's proposal to repeal the rider was defeated last week in the U.S. Senate. Congress is now considering another amendment attached to the omnibus budget bill that would slightly modify but not repeal the salvage timber rider. It would allow the government to offer timber companies either a substitute stand of trees or buy back their logging contracts in exchange for saving old growth forests. Meanwhile, many environmentalists vow until lawmakers vote for repeal they will continue their fight with civil disobedience in the forests of the Northwest.