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Clinton Calls on Cabinet to Craft Forest-Jobs Plan

April 03, 1993|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PORTLAND, Ore. — President Clinton, presiding over a one-day timber "summit" here Friday, said he had given his Cabinet 60 days to develop a plan to end the warfare between timber and environmental interests over logging in the Northwest's ancient forests.

"You want us to try to break the paralysis that presently controls the situation," Clinton told advocates on both sides of the issue after a round-table hearing on the nation's most visible environmental problem. "Even when you were disagreeing, every one of you was a voice for change."

The meeting, held at the Portland Convention Center with Vice President Al Gore and five Clinton Cabinet members in attendance, was intended to provide Clinton with a firsthand view of the impasse that has developed since the courts halted timber sales from federal lands to protect the northern spotted owl.

Environmentalists say that halt must remain in force to save dozens of species in the 3 million acres of ancient forests that remain; logging interests and labor say the region could lose 30,000 jobs if the sales are not soon resumed.

But Clinton insisted that the region "can move beyond confrontation to build a consensus on a balanced policy. This is not about choosing between jobs and the environment, but about recognizing the importance of both."

The President said he was directing his Cabinet to develop a "balanced and comprehensive long-term policy" that would follow a series of guidelines, and satisfy the needs to protect the forests and provide jobs for the timber communities that have been strained by a shrinking industry.

The issue has shaped up as the first important test of Clinton's ability to satisfy environmentalists while at the same time living up to his vow to make jobs his highest priority.

In laying out guidelines for the plan, Clinton said the Administration "must never forget the human and economic dimensions of the problem," while allowing timber sales where the forest can be protected. But the Administration should "do our best to offer new economic opportunities" where logging cannot be allowed for fear of damaging the forests.

Using language that would please environmentalists, Clinton said the government's effort must be "scientifically sound, economically credible and legally responsible." He said the policy should aim to produce a "predictable and sustainable level of timber sales."

Clinton announced his plans after the hearing that focused largely on the need for jobs and the distress of communities hard-hit by the timber-sale ban. But advocates on both sides said Clinton's guidelines seemed to be evenly balanced, and described themselves as pleased with the initial results.

Karin Sheldon, president of the Wilderness Society, said the tenor of the meeting had concerned her, but that Clinton's closing statement left her "optimistic."

Mark E. Rey, executive director of the American Forest & Paper Assn., the leading trade group, predicted that the President's initiative would open the way to some logging in the old forests. "That's the news here," he said.

Clinton's announcement will begin a period of intense behind-the-scenes lobbying by both sides, and presumably by members of the Northwest's congressional delegation.

For the last word on the summit, Clinton later met with a handful of West Coast newspaper reporters and said he preferred that he be given a chance to make America's environmental laws work before proposing new legislation. But he acknowledged, "this will be the toughest test to see if you can make the laws work."

In the end, Clinton said a successful resolution would be felt across the land. "If we can solve this here, it might be a model for . . . a lot of other tough environmental issues that are coming right up."

In the eight-hour hearing, a succession of about 50 speakers told emotional stories about jobless workers and their distressed families.

Archbishop Thomas Murphy of Seattle told of a man who came to him lamenting that he had spent a lifetime in logging, lost his job and ended up sleeping in his pickup truck on the shoulder of the road.

"The loss of that man and those like him is evident in the empty storefronts . . . and downtown soup kitchens" of the Northwest, Murphy said. He said the strains of the crisis were being felt in and drug and alcohol abuse throughout the region.

Frank Tallerico, superintendent of schools in Siskiyou County, Calif., told how the impact of logging cutbacks had led to social upheavals, including increased juvenile delinquency, and a surge in welfare and unemployment applications. And, when fathers leave the community to look for work elsewhere, "we are de facto creating single-parent families," Tallerico said.

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