Oil or Stilling the Chainsaws?


During the dark days of the Reagan and Bush I regimes, grassroots forest activists forced the DC politicians and the big green DC groups to take notice of what was happening to the precious Ancient Forest ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. They elevated the fate of these forests to a national concern, despite being told it couldn’t be done. As irreplaceable forests fell to the saws, the consistent word from DC was that in order to end Ancient Forest logging, “you have to elect Democrats to power.”

So, come 1993, the issue was “ripe.” An Injunction against logging was in place (gained in 1991 during Bush I; issued by courageous Reagan-appointee Judge William Dwyer, the Northern spotted owl was on the cover of TIME and Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives.

What happened? Under pressure from the new Clinton administration, the spotted owl plaintiffs first gave up 84 million board feet (approx..2000 acres of clearcuts) of “goodwill” sales from the Injunction and the Injunction itself soon thereafter; they then self-selected themselves to represent the Ancient Forest movement at Clinton’s staged Portland Forest Summit (April 1993); Ancient Forest logging resumed shortly thereafter under the terms of Clinton’s 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (Option 9); spotted owls and other dependent species have been driven to the brink of extinction; hundreds of activists have been arrested and some have even died protesting the resulting Option 9 Ancient Forest timber sales of the past decade.

The End Game

March 23, 2004, the Bush II administration made two major changes to Option 9. The government dropped a rule requiring forest managers to look for rare plants and animals before logging, and it changed the rules protecting salmon streams.

The “Survey and Manage” rule which was added late in the drafting of the Forest Plan required U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees to survey for about 300 rare plants and animals that were not listed under the Endangered Species Act before an old growth timber sale could proceed. This survey and manage change affects 5.5 million acres of Ancient Forests from Washington to Northern California and is not subject to administrative appeal by citizens. It had three now lost requirements: Protect sites where known rare species lived; Perform regional-level surveys to give an overview of species protection; Conduct surveys of rare species before any ground-disturbing activities, such as clearcut logging.

Another key part of Option 9 was also removed. The agencies will no longer be required to monitor potential impacts on watersheds under the Aquatic Conservation Strategy before logging can commence. Instead of monitoring each timber sale, the agencies will now merely look at impacts over areas from 10,000 to 100,000 acres in size.

Big Green Responds

A few years into Option 9, spokesman for the owl plaintiffs, Oregon Natural Resources Council’s (ONRC) Andy Kerr wrote: “If the federal forest agencies don’t follow the plan, they’ll end up in court. Or, if they ignore new scientific information demonstrating the need to revise the present plan, they’ll end up in court. The owl’s populations are still declining (and the rate of decline is increasing) and should be reclassified from ‘threatened’ to ‘endangered.'”

{Kerr, Andy and Rick Brown. 1997. “The Bottom Line on Option 9.” Wild Earth. Vol. 7, No. 2. Summer. 31-34.}

One assumes we can eagerly look forward to the ONRC lawsuit and Upgrade Petition for the Spotted Owl.

Here’s the response from Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, another of the plaintiff groups. Released the same day as the Bush Survey and Manage rollback was announced, Pope’s statement partly reads: “Part of the Bush administration’s so-called ‘Healthy Forests Initiative,’ was to re-open Northwest ancient forests to unsustainable logging.”

This statement is a triple-play of disinformation:

1) It was Democrat Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) whose “Healthy” Forests Initiative was passed last year by the Senate 80–14, with none of the major Democratic Senator presidential candidates bothering to vote. Only one Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) voted Nay on the crucial 97–1 vote authorizing the Wyden/Feinstein version; 2) There is no such thing as “sustainable” Ancient Forest logging; and, 3) It was the Sierra Club-blessed Clinton 1994 Northwest Forest Plan which “re-open(ed)” these precious ecosystems to logging after it had been halted by Dwyer’s Injunction.

No mention is made of how Pope and the other representatives of big green repeatedly stated that “stopping the Healthy Forests Initiative is the number one priority of the movement in 2003” — a mission they obviously failed completely and one they’re still shamelessly using for fundraising and Bush-bashing! Similarly, Pope et al. have railed against the Bush regime’s effort to toss out Clinton’s last minute Roadless Area Rule which could possibly provide some protection to large blocks of unprotected, unroaded areas in the forests. Yet again, there is no mention made of how it was Pope and the Sierra Club who first “reopened” logging in Roadless Areas with their July 2002 Deal on the Black Hills with yet another of their Democrat friends, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD).

The Grassroots Response

Thankfully, one can count on the real grassroots of the forest protection movement to take them all on–Democrats AND Republicans.

A multi-front campaign has been launched in the NW forests. First, Big Timber’s morphing into Big Fire is being challenged. Undersecretary of Agriculture (in charge of the Forest Service) Mark Rey believes that the public won’t get too excited about “burnt sticks.” He, pro-timber politicos like Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Wyden and Feinstein count on the Fire bogeyman to ease the road to increased logging. Since these forests evolved with fire and decades of misguided fire suppression has led to high fuel build up in the forests, it’s a certainty that more and more fires will occur. So the entire industry has shifted to “Fire Prevention and Restoration” which means a quadruple dip in the Treasury trough:

1) Paid (by the taxpayers) to do “fuels reduction” logging projects; 2) Paid to fight the inevitable fires; 3) Paid to “salvage log” the post-fire forest; and. 4) Paid to do “restoration.”

The main battleground on Post-Fire Logging is in the Siskiyou Wild Rivers area of Southern Oregon. The Forest Service recently put of a Draft EIS calling for the largest timber sale in history — some 510 million board feet would be cut in the Biscuit Fire area under the DEIS.

Politicians like DeFazio and Wyden are calling for “at least 120 million board feet.” The Final EIS will undoubtedly hit that target, at minimum. The big greens are negotiating. The grassroots have let it be known that they will fight for every burnt stick and the green, healthy trees that are the real goal of the lumbermen.

So, if Post-Fire logging is the Bush/Rey-chosen ideological battleground, the grassroots say “Bring it on” and will hound Rey wherever he goes and will be on the ground at the points of attack, defending the forests however they can.

On the Offense

It won’t be all defense, however. Another effort underway is the Greenpeace-led international call for protection of the endangered North American Temperate Rain Forest across its range — from our largest Ancient Forest, the Tongass National Forest of Alaska to the redwoods of Northern California.

Plans are to establish a system of interconnected National Parks, Park Additions, Wilderness Areas and Preserves. Prominent is the reintroduction of the Oregon Volcanic Cascades National Park (OVCNP) proposal and the proposed Siskiyou Wild Rivers National Park. The addition of these two new parks and new Wilderness Areas in Alaska will create a habitat chain from the Tongass, connecting the established North Cascades, Olympic, Mt. Rainier, Crater Lake and Redwood National Parks in the Lower 48, British Columbia Provincial Parks and numerous other areas with differing protection designations. The OVCNP was first proposed by Sierra Clubbers David Simons, Brock Evans and David Brower back in 1958. Part of that visionary proposal covering the area around Mt. Hood is still an active Sierra Club National Park proposal.

Perhaps in response to the Park Proposals, on March 25, 2002, Sen. Wyden took a page from the old Sens. Mark O. Hatfield and Bob Packwood (R-OR) election-year playbook. Wyden floated a proposal for new additions to the Mt. Hood Wilderness Area. If he indeed goes forward and secures the additions (a big if), it would be the first such protective designation for the area since 1984.

A Collision of Campaigns

So, ONRC and others prepare their lawsuits in response to the Survey and Manage rollback and a roster of local, regional and national groups in fight against the Biscuit Post-Fire logging scheme in Southern Oregon.

Meanwhile others see opportunity in crisis and are actively taking the offense with new protection proposals. The DC grassroots representative group Save America’s Forests has reintroduced their Act to Save America’s Forests. In the past, Democratic nominee John Kerry has been a cosponsor of the Act. Endorsing it again this year could be THE effort that pushes Kerry into the White House, just as declining to re-sponsor may once again cost the Democrats the green vote.

For decades, Public Lands policy has been written behind-the-scenes in Oregon. For many of those years, it was because of the clout of now-retired Sen. Hatfield who famously backed Big Timber. A huge (final?) chapter is being written right now.

The Democrats, increasingly aware that even the slavish devotion of the big greens and control of the League of Conservation Voters doesn’t deliver the green vote, have a choice. Get on board the new wave of conservation, back the park proposals as former Sen. Wayne Morse (D-OR) did the originals, back the Act to Save America’s Forests, end the subsidized pre and post-fire logging scams or join the forests in going down in flames.

MICHAEL DONNELLY is a grassroots forest activist who filed his first Appeal of a Forest Service decision in 1977. He was a plaintiff is the first successful Old Growth lawsuit in 1986. He was active in the successful 20-year campaign to protect the magnificent forests of Oregon’s Opal Creek. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com


MICHAEL DONNELLY has been an environmental activist since before that first Earth Day. He was in the thick of the Pacific Northwest Ancient Forest Campaign; garnering some collective victories and lamenting numerous defeats. He can be reached at pahtoo@aol.com

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