Washington State Proposes Forest Protections

Jan. 22, 2004
To preserve old-growth forests, a Washington state official wants to end clear-cutting on thousands of acres of state trust lands.
OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) -- To preserve old-growth forests, a Washington state official wants to end clear-cutting on thousands of acres of state trust lands.

Hundreds of miles to the south, federal officials want to cut trees throughout California's Sierra Nevada in forest-thinning projects they say will protect old-growth stands from catastrophic wildfires.

The two approaches are sparking the latest skirmishes between loggers and environmentalists in a long-standing fight over old-growth forests, which are home to endangered species such as the spotted owl and large trees that are valuable as timber.

While Washington's plan would allow some thinning, its approach emphasizes preservation, not the chain saw. State Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland says his goal is to quadruple the amount of old-growth on state trust lands over the next 50 years.

He is proposing a permanent ban on clear-cuts on 54,400 acres of old-growth forest in western Washington.

``It just seemed to make good sense,'' Sutherland said.

The government already limits logging in most old-growth state trust forest. Only about 14,000 acres of old-growth state trust forest are totally unprotected. But Sutherland said his proposal offers more than symbolic value.

``Old growth forests play a very important role in our healthy ecosystems,'' he said. ``People really are concerned about this.''

Washington state manages about 2.1 million acres of forest trust land, selling the timber to raise money for school construction, universities, county government, fire districts and other public needs.

Sutherland said ending clear-cuts on old-growth forests would only affect about 1 percent of the trust revenue.

``I know I'm going to anger both sides,'' said Sutherland, a Republican elected in 2000 with timber industry support. ``Some will say it's too much, and some will say it's not enough.''

Leaders of counties that rely on money from logging on trust lands worry about any move that could drain their cash flow.

Many rural counties' economies have been crippled by government restrictions on logging following the 1990 listing of the spotted owl as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Thousands of logging jobs disappeared.

``A lot of those counties are concerned about revenue. (Logging) helps create jobs,'' said Jefferson County Commissioner Glen Huntingford, who represents timber-dependent counties on the state Board of Natural Resources.

Environmentalists also questioned the plan. They want to protect old growth stands from all logging, even thinning projects.

``These areas are already functioning as healthy forests,'' said Becky Kelley, who tracks state forestry for the Washington Environmental Council. ``We don't believe they need our intervention.''

Meanwhile in California, federal officials were planning to market a forest-thinning plan in the Sierra Nevada range as necessary to prevent wildfires like those that swept Southern California last fall.

Regional Forester Jack Blackwell will announce Thursday the final version of a revision of a Clinton administration plan for managing 11.5 million acres spanning 11 national forests.

If it stands, it would finally replace temporary rules adopted in 1993 to protect the California spotted owl.

But environmental groups are threatening to sue unless Blackwell makes significant changes to a draft plan offered for public comment in March. That proposal called for doubling logging in the Sierra to minimize fire damage.

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