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Environmentalists Split on Logging Plan

Times Staff Writer

Environmentalists were sharply split Thursday over a logging plan approved by the U.S. Senate, with some praising it as a landmark improvement in forest management and others excoriating it as an attack on major environmental laws.

The plan, part of the Department of Agriculture appropriation for 1990, was introduced by Sens. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) and Brock Adams (D-Wash.) to try to ease a log shortage that threatens the Pacific Northwest timber industry.

The plan would permit the harvest of 10 billion board-feet of timber from Oregon and Washington lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management--a compromise between industry and environmentalist levels.

The plan also for the first time acknowledges the existence and importance of virgin, old-growth forests, which provide vital wildlife habitat, superior watershed and exceptional recreation.

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On the other side, it also restricts how much federal courts can interfere with harvest plans that may threaten the forests. The courts would still be allowed to review each timber sale but could not stop any one of them without first conducting a full trial.

Some environmental groups, such as the Audubon Society and Sierra Club, say the old-growth sections are a major step forward in federal forest management. Others, including the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, say the legal restrictions severely weaken existing environmental laws.

“For the first time in history, they are giving legal protection to old growth,” said Audubon Society Vice President Brock Evans. “They defined what old-growth is and are telling the Forest Service to stay out of it whenever possible. . . . We think substantial progress has been made.”

“It is completely unsatisfactory,” rejoined Wilderness Society spokesman Richard Hoppe. “The Senate bill will give the Forest Service the authority to ignore all the major environmental legislation that regulates its activity.”

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“It is an invitation to illegal action and a license to commit it,” added Vic Sher of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Club, which operates separately from the Sierra Club itself.

Both environmentalist camps said they would try to strengthen the bill when a conference committee reconciles differences in Agriculture budgets passed by the House and Senate. Over the last two years, environmentalists have won sweeping federal court injunctions to protect old-growth from being cut because logging appeared to threaten the northern spotted owl with extinction. Those orders have blocked more than a fourth of federal timber sales in Oregon and Washington.

The timber industry blames this for a log shortage that has closed at least 30 mills and threatens to close many more by this winter. But others have said mill consolidation, automation and raw-log exports are to blame.


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