The Clinton Administration's
for the Pacific Northwest
Ross W. Gorte
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Division
July 16, 1993
On April 2, 1993, President Clinton fulfilled a campaign
promise by convening a forest conference in Portland, OR, to
address the gridlock over management of the Federal forestlands
in the Pacific Northwest and the resulting effects on communities
and the regional economy. Many interests and ideas were heard by
the President, Vice President Gore, numerous Cabinet Members, and
other Presidential advisors. At the close of the conference, the
President committed to preparing a plan within 60 days to address
Intensive efforts following the forest conference led to
development of a background paper with 10 options. This paper has
not been distributed, because elements of it are still being
discussed and modified, but briefings and press reports have
disclosed many of the pieces. "Option 9" of the
background paper appears to be the basis for the proposal
released by the White House on July 1, 1993: The Forest Plan
for a Sustainable Economy and a Sustainable Environment. This
plan is composed of three major pieces: forest management,
economic development, and agency coordination.
The forest management segment of the plan was based on a
presumption that current legal requirements for Federal land
management would not be altered. The plan is described as using
watersheds as the fundamental building blocks for planning and
decisionmaking. It proposes reserve areas, adaptive management
areas, and a total harvest level for the Forest Service and
Bureau of Land Management (BLM). While congressional insulation
of the plan from judicial review was discussed, such protection
was not proposed in the plan.
To resolve the legal challenges and lift the existing
injunctions against the Forest Service and BLM, the forest
management segment of the plan must be approved by the courts as
fulfilling the land management laws: the National Forest
Management Act (NFMA), the Federal Land Policy and Management Act
(FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), et al..
The plan will be part of a draft Supplemental Environmental
Impact Statement, which will be submitted to Judge Dwyer of the
Federal District Court for Western Washington for the injunction
against the Forest Service. It is unclear, at this time, whether
the court will find that the plan meets the legal requirements,
and how the plan and Judge Dwyer's decision might affect other
lawsuits and the recovery plan for the spotted owl.
The plan proposes reserve areas based on watersheds, old
growth forests, and "designated conservation areas to
protect specific species." While State-level maps of the
reserve areas exist, the plan does not specify the acreage
reserved or the distribution of that acreage by Federal unit
(national forest, etc.).
The plan proposes "very limited activities" in the
reserves, but allows timber salvage and thinning "where the
primary objective ... is to accelerate the development of old
growth conditions." Environmental groups have expressed
concern about the potential misuse of salvage and thinning -- to
produce timber for industrial production, with little regard to
ecosystem health. This concern is bolstered by a report from the
Office of Technology Assessment noting that the Forest Service
financial and managerial control systems focus on timber output
and that the agency does not have adequate measures of ecosystem
health.(1) Thus, while such operations might promote old growth
conditions, concern over their level and control to achieve the
stated purposes may be warranted.
Adaptive Management Areas
The plan proposes 10 adaptive management areas of 78,000 to
380,000 acres each. As with the reserve areas, State-level maps
show the adaptive management areas, but the plan itself does not
identify the total acreage or the distribution of the adaptive
management areas by Federal unit.
The adaptive management areas are intended to provide
"intensive ecological experimentation and social innovation
to develop and demonstrate new ways to integrate ecological and
economic objectives and allow for local involvement in defining
the future." A "rigorous monitoring and research
program" is proposed to assess the results and effectiveness
of the efforts.
Implementation is the key to whether this approach is
successful. The Forest Service and BLM are both currently
required to include public participation in their planning and
management decisions, but local and national disagreements on
management direction still exist. Furthermore, Forest Service
monitoring of forest plan implementation, required by NFMA, has
been weak, at best.(2) Thus, the agencies' abilities to achieve
the stated goals are uncertain.
The plan proposes "a sustainable timber harvest of 1.2
billion board feet annually on the spotted owl forests."
Presumably, this includes not only the national forests west of
the Cascade crest, but also the BLM lands in western Oregon, and
national forests in northern California and east of the Cascade
crest that contain spotted owl habitat. This harvest level
apparently excludes harvests from some of the national forests in
Washington and Oregon and most of the national forests in
California. The distribution of this harvest by agency and
Federal unit, however, is not specified.
This sale level is substantially below sales and harvests from
the affected Federal lands over the past 30 years. However, some
decline from peak harvest levels of the late 1980s is clearly not
due to spotted owl protection.(3) Sale levels in the current
forest plans have also been criticized as being unsustainable.
Nonetheless, the proposed sale program is only about half the
level that was projected under the recommendations of the
Interagency Scientific Committee (the ISC or Thomas Report).(4)
On the other hand, it is nearly double the sale program that has
been achieved under the current injunctions. It is unclear, and
not documented in the proposed plan, whether this decline either
is larger than necessary or is even sufficient to meet the legal
obligations of the agencies.
Regardless of whether the courts view the plan as adequate to
lift the injunctions, generally imposed because of apparent
violations of the land management laws, proposals for Federal
actions (including timber salvage sales and thinning) must still
be submitted for consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service
or the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Endangered
Species Act (ESA).(5) In general, Federal actions cannot
jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify
their critical habitat. Thus, the forest plan must be submitted
for consultation under ESA; or more likely, agency actions taken
under the plan will probably be submitted for consultation, since
the consequences of the plan may be insufficiently detailed to
assess jeopardy or adverse habitat modification. Because the plan
differs markedly from previous owl conservation plans (e.g., the
ISC Report and the draft recovery plan), and because it might
affect spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and listed salmon
populations, consultations on the plan or on actions under the
plan could be time consuming.
The plan proposes four additional steps to ease the impact of
the reduced timber supplies from Federal lands. One is an
unspecified new rule from the Fish and Wildlife Service to ease
timber harvesting restrictions on non-federal lands inhabited by
spotted owls; however, this may be inconsistent with the ESA, at
least until a recovery plan has been completed. The second is
Federal assistance for backlogged timber sales on Indian
reservations, but where, why, and how many sales are backlogged
is unclear. The third step is to restrict the use of certain tax
expenditures, to curtail tax assistance for log exports.
The fourth step is to accelerate the sale of dead and dying
timber in eastern Washington and Oregon. Many eastside forest
ecosystems have allegedly been damaged by past management
practices and prolonged drought, and accelerating the salvage
program is proposed as a way both to improve the health of these
ecosystems and to provide timber. However, the traditional focus
on timber outputs, the inadequate measures of forest health, and
the results of past mismanagement raise concerns about the
effectiveness of the proposal, and whether it would be conducted
within the current national forest planning process.
The Northwest Economic Adjustment Initiative is the segment of
the President's forest plan aimed at assisting the economic
transition in the Pacific Northwest. The controversy between
industry and environmental groups over the past several years has
centered on forest management issues, with less attention to the
subsequent and related economic adjustment. Nonetheless, the
debate over the economic transition has raised concerns about the
level of funding needed, the distribution of assistance, and the
effectiveness of the delivery system.
The Northwest Economic Adjustment Initiative targets four
groups for assistance: workers and families; communities and
infrastructure; business and industry; and ecosystem investment.
In addition, the plan proposes a Northwest Economic Adjustment
Fund, with discretion for the States on how best to use the
funds. Proposed funding for the Northwest Economic Adjustment
Initiative is $1.2 billion over 5 years, including $270 million
for FY1994. The FY1994 funding is probably based on the
President's budget request; the amount needed to achieve the
desired levels may be higher (or lower) than these estimates,
depending on the changes made in the agencies' budgets by
Congress. Some of the funding may be additional appropriations,
but some will be redirected from other program and other regions.
Finally, the plan supports terminating the authority to use
certain general export tax expenditures for the export of
unprocessed timber, as noted above; the Senate included a
provision to enact this change in the tax laws in H.R. 2264, the
Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, but a conference must
still resolve this and other differences between the House and
Senate versions of the bill. It is unclear whether any of the
budget savings from this change in the tax laws has been included
in the proposed $1.2 billion for the Northwest Economic
Workers and Families
The plan proposes an increase in funding under title III of
the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) for assisting job
searches and retraining and relocating workers; this assistance
is available for all displaced workers, not just those in the
timber industry. For FY1994, a 110-percent ($22 million) increase
in funds is proposed for the Northwest.
Communities and Infrastructure
The plan proposes stable payments to the counties, in lieu of
property taxes for the tax-exempt Federal lands, to replace the
timber receipt-sharing system that has provided widely
fluctuating annual payments. Additional funding for the Northwest
is proposed through the Rural Development Administration,
Community Development Block Grants, and other programs; for
FY1994, the increase is to be 25 percent ($75 million) over the
original budget request for these programs. These funds are
intended to assist communities in planning for economic
development and diversification and in providing the necessary
infrastructure for such development.
Business and Industry
The plan proposes a 47-percent ($77 million) increase in
funding for the Northwest through the Rural Development
Administration, the Small Business Administration, and other
business assistance programs for FY1994. The funds in these
programs are intended to improve access to capital, to expand
technical assistance, and to enhance access to domestic and
The plan proposes to increase funds for watershed maintenance,
ecosystem restoration and research, environmental monitoring, and
forest stewardship. Most of these efforts will be aimed at
Federal lands, but forest stewardship will include assistance for
private, nonindustrial forestlands. For FY1994, the proposed
increase is 19 percent ($82 million), funded through the Forest
Service, BLM, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Environmental
Improving agency coordination is the third major segment of
President Clinton's forest plan. The plan states that this
segment is essential, because the various agencies have been seen
as acting "in isolation or even at cross purposes in
managing federal forest lands."
The plan proposes "forest planning based on watersheds
and "physiographic provinces"" with analyses by
"provincial-level teams" that include the relevant
Federal and State agencies and tribes and that would involve
"all affected parties in the discussions." The benefits
of watershed-level planning have been long debated in land
management literature. However, it is unclear how this new
planning will mesh with the existing land and resource management
planning proced ures for units of the National Forest System
under NFMA and for BLM lands under FLPMA. The current procedures
are embodied in regulations that are binding on the two agencies.
The plan also proposes "a new inter-agency Geographic
Information System [GIS] data base." GIS systems are indeed
useful in coordinating data collection and analysis, and this
will likely improve interagency coordination. Furthermore, GIS
technology has advanced rapidly in the past few years. However,
the hardware and software needed to use GIS systems are
expensive, and the plan provides no information on how the
initial investment and annual maintenance of the database will be
Finally, the plan proposes revising the consultation process
under ESA to include the relevant agency -- the Fish and Wildlife
Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service -- early in
the planning processes of the other agencies, and possibly at a
scale larger than individual projects. Early involvement can
certainly help avoid many of the problems and apparent
contradictions in the existing process. However, early
involvement is already feasible and available, and it is unclear
what specific changes in ESA or its implementing regulations
might be offered. It is also unclear how "the use, where
appropriate, of regional consultations" would mesh with
existing planning and decisionmaking processes of the Forest
Service and BLM.
President Clinton's forest plan is an attempt to resolve the
continuing controversy over forest management in the Pacific
Northwest. Because of the longstanding polarization of interests,
it is virtually impossible to craft a plan that would be widely
accepted. The proposed harvest level is a very substantial drop
from record levels of the late 1980s, but whether the decline is
sufficient or is more than necessary to meet the requirements of
environmental laws and regulations is unclear. Moreover, the plan
might be sufficient to lift the current injunctions, but the plan
or the subsequent activities must still be submitted to the Fish
and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service
for consultation under ESA.
The reserve areas and adaptive management areas, though not
yet clearly identified, appear to be based on reasonable
scientific principles of forest management. However, their proper
implementation is essential, and many critics do not trust the
agencies to implement the plan to achieve the specified goals.
Substantial funding over 5 years is proposed for workers,
communities, businesses, and ecosystem investment, but whether
the funding levels and delivery mechanisms are adequate and
attainable is unknown. The efforts to improve coordination among
agencies are desirable, but previous efforts at interagency
coordination have often proven ineffective.
1 . U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. Forest
Service Planning: Accommodating Uses, Producing Outputs, and
Sustaining Ecosystems. OTA-F-505. Washington, DC: U.S. Govt.
Print. Off., Feb. 1992.
3. See: U.S. Library of Congress, Congressional Research
Service. Economic Impacts of Protecting Spotted Owls: A
Comparison and Analysis of Existing Studies. [by Ross W.
Gorte.] CRS Report for Congress 92-922 ENR. Washington, DC: Dec.
5. For more on this situation in the Northwest, see: U.S.
Library of Congress, Con-gressional Research Service. Spotted
Owls and Northwest Forests. CRS Issue Brief IB93015.
Washington, DC: updated periodically.