Lies and broken promises, the Clinton spin machine is at it gain. Recently, U.S. Undersecretary of Agriculture James Lyons claimed that President Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan has ended the gridlock created by the spotted owl crisis. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In reality, the most productive forest region in Oregon only produced 16 million board feet of sawtimber for sale in the first nine months of 1999, maybe enough to supply one Oregon sawmill or plywood plant.
In April 1993, President Clinton came riding into the forest conference like a champion on a white horse, proclaiming that he would take care of the problem. The truth – significantly less timber is cut on federal lands today than in 1993, and that volume is a small fraction of the timber that Clinton promised in 1993. Contrary to the claim that appeals and lawsuits would be reduced, they continue to proliferate. The president’s Northwest Forest Plan produced less timber in 1999 from the Western states than at any time since the Great Depression.
In spite of federal claims to the contrary, the interior region of the Northwest is a disaster. To clear timber that has burned or was lost due to insect infestation almost requires an act of Congress.
Paul Ehinger, a respected consultant to the forest products industry, stated, "I spent two and a half months working on a resource project in the Southwest. The local citizens desperately want to revitalize the forests and revive an almost insolvent industry. There is an abundance of trees on the national forests of Arizona and New Mexico. In every diameter class there are more trees today than there were in 1910 or 1960. Forests are overgrown, and many thousand acres are in desperate need of thinning to avoid major conflagrations."
In the Northwest, the administration has done virtually nothing except stand in the way of true progress. Knowledgeable people indicate that forest health is far worse than it was in 1993. Just eliminating timber harvesting is not forest management. Before settlers pushed across the continent, Indians practiced forest management through the ways they used the forests.
"I challenge Mr. Lyons to name one small rural timber-dependent community that has a more robust economy today than when the present administration took office. Most of these communities have deteriorated economically. Many have given up hope of ever regaining even a small fraction of the economic vitality that existed a decade ago," Paul said.
Mr. Lyons referred to "our important investments in the region." Who is our? The local citizens, not the federal government, have made important investments in their communities and businesses. Any life in these rural areas is because of them, not Uncle Sam. Virtually eliminating a resource as important as timber has had a devastating effect.
It is true, but nevertheless unfortunate, that a good economy masks reality in many ways. We have had enough lumber to build houses and to manufacture thousands of wood based products. That does not negate the fact that the management of our federal forests has been virtually non-existent.
We are in another crucial election year. The last two presidential elections have been disastrous for both our forests and timber resources. Electing Al Gore this fall would just accelerate the disaster. Time has come for our industry to stand up and fight for local control and wise forest management.
Is Washington out of touch with the people? Does Washington have its own misguided agenda? Are bureaucrats misinformed about the truth? Are they just power hungry? I am certain of one thing - the election this fall is going to provide another chance for us to have at least some input into the decision making process. What is happening in the woods is not very pretty. What is happening in D.C. may be even worse.