Timber Capitalists Reap a Bonanza, Destroy the Environment


Timber Capitalists Reap a Bonanza, Destroy the Environment
reprinted from
The People
March 23, 1996


The assault on the environment by the Republican-dominated Congress bore fruit last year when President Clinton signed a new law permitting salvage logging of damaged, insect-infected and fire-scarred timber. In addition, however, the measure signed by the Democratic President Clinton included a rider that allows the cutting of older healthy trees that were formerly protected.

The measure was sponsored in the U.S. Senate by Slade Gorton (R-Wash.), and was clearly meant to appease the timber industry. It was Gorton who wrote the rider that allows for logging older stands of trees.

Gorton deliberately misrepresented the bill in March 1994 when he issued a press release that only mentioned salvage logging. "We're not talking about clear-cuts in Olympics [Olympic National Forest]," he said.

The new law, however, has permitted just that. Logging companies, acting under its protection, are clear cutting all trees in large sections of the Olympic National Forest in Washington State.

Timber companies in other western states, protected by this legislation from complying with other laws protecting the environment, have reaped a bonanza in clear cutting. Some forestry experts have attributed this rape of the environment as the cause of mudslides and of last month's extensive flooding in Idaho, Montana and Oregon.

When President Clinton paid a visit to Seattle in February, he was greeted by more than a thousand demonstrators protesting against this new law that permits the timber industry to ignore protective environmental laws while logging in Forest Service land. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that around 600 million board feet of ancient forests will disappear as timber companies take advantage of Gorton's rider -- more than triple the amount logged for the past five years. Even THE SEATTLE TIMES, a former supporter of the relaxed legislation, admits it was hoodwinked by Gorton and accused him of misleading the public by "a bait-and-switch game."

President Clinton, always attuned to which way the voters are running, told the protesters who met him in Seattle "that the legislation was a 'mistake' that needed to be corrected," and he has asked U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) "to fix this thing." Accordingly, she has been hard at work on a bill that would modify the new law by exempting healthy trees in protected areas from clear cutting.

According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, however, "Gorton says that the intent of the bill was always clear and the president knew all along what he was signing." (March 1.) In the meantime, he has teamed up with Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.) to draft a bill requiring the government either to buy out logging contracts affecting the sensitive areas or else to offer replacement wood in other areas. A competing bill in the House of Representatives to repeal the rider outright is given little chance of success.

Meanwhile, Congress debates, Clinton moves on, and timber capitalists are still free to devastate the landscape to their hearts' -- and their pocketbooks' -- content.

-- B.G.