Time for a Fresh Look
By Felice Pace, Counterpunch
August 13, 2005
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman
recently ruled that a Bush Administration attempt to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan is illegal. While
this is only the latest news in a long-running saga of logging and lawsuits it does signal a turning of
the tide. Since he was appointed almost six years ago, Assistant Secretary for Natural Resources Mark Rey
has been working methodically to roll back the Clinton-era plan. Todays decision means that those efforts
More failures are sure to follow. Thats because the Plan Clintons people sheparded through the tangles
of the Forest Service bureaucracy and Northwest timber politics had already maximized the amount of
timber that could be cut under the National Forest Management Act, the law judges are sworn to uphold.
Mark Rey can do a lot of things but, so far, he cant get Congress to change the National Forest
Management Act or judges to ignore the established law of the land. And so most of his efforts will
Are we then doomed to go through another cycle of Northwest Timber Wars? There
may be another path.
Neither the timber industry nor conservationists are pleased with the
Northwest Forest Plan. Because it started with a Northern Spotted Owl management system as its base and
because aquatic protection was added late in the game and never fully integrated, the Northwest Forest
Plan may not be the optimal solutionto preserve the Northwests forest ecosystems while providing for
reasonable human needs and uses.
A patchwork of provisions cobbled together in a short time, the
Northwest Forest Plan relied on a plethora of scientific processes to assure (monitor) that it was
working. One critical disadvantage of such a plan is its cost. The NWFP is too complicated and too
expensive. Another key limitation is the Plans failure to provide much in the way of dense forest
The issue of connectivity brings us full circle. The lawsuit defeat today was the
Bush Administrations attempt to get rid of a provision of the Northwest Forest Plan that arose because
that Plan did not provide habitat connectivity for small, rare and little known Old Growth species.
What if a smaller group of scientists who know these forests intimately were to construct a different
plan that begins from the premise that all species and all ecosystem processes must be fully
accommodated? I suspect such a plan would build a reserve system around existing wilderness and
roadless areas. It would certainly be drawn along watershed lines. And it would stress connectivity.
I also suspect scientists would surround this connected web of reservelands with a matrix of forests
managed for multiple uses including careful logging and dotted with human community zones where fire
risk reduction would be the top priority.
I am suggesting that the end of the Northwest timber
wars could be a different forest plan that works better for all interests except perhaps for the Forest
Service bureaucracy. Because of that bureaucracy, however, and for a variety of other reasons, an
alternative Northwest Forest Plan is not likely to emerge from the government. It would have to be done
by private scientists financed with private money. While it would be a gamble, key players on the
industry and conservation sidesrecognizing their shared dissatisfaction with the current plan, the
potential for a simpler and cheaper plan and the futility of endless war - might muster the courage and
boldness to join together in support of an independent planning effort. Is anyone interested?
Felice Pace served for fifteen years as Conservation Director of the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA)
where he now volunteers as a senior counselor. While working for KFA from 1989 through 2003, Pace
spearheaded numerous administrative appeals and several lawsuits to protect forests from logging and
road building. He was a presenter at President Clintons Forest Conference in Portland and an early
champion of efforts to put timber folks to work restoring forests and streams. He can be reached at:
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