Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Key Results from Forest Conference the Presidential Forest Conference Showed Clinton's Commitment to Help the Pacific Northwest Move the Public-Land Debate Forward

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Key Results from Forest Conference the Presidential Forest Conference Showed Clinton's Commitment to Help the Pacific Northwest Move the Public-Land Debate Forward

Article excerpt

THREE important and long-overdue results have come from the Presidential Forest Conference, held in Portland, Ore., April 2.

The first is that the conference happened. The president and vice president, six top officials, and dozens of White House staff came to Portland to begin to solve a problem that has devastated an irreplaceable ecosystem and divided an entire region of the United States for decades. That so many of the highest elected officials of the new administration came to the Northwest itself represents major progress.

President Clinton inherited a mess. The two previous administrations preached law and order in our cities but practiced lawlessness on our public lands. Case after case revealed what one federal judge called "a remarkable series of violations" of the environmental laws.

In a stark and welcome contrast, the Clinton administration showed its willingness to confront and grapple seriously with these problems as stewards of public lands rather than as litigants in federal courts.

What has been needed is a president willing to get his hands dirty to solve a difficult problem, but not to play dirty by breaking the law. The effort to engage a broad group in debating substantive issues will go far in achieving the president's goal of keeping this problem in the conference room and out of the courtroom.

The second result: Despite the divisiveness that is common in the Pacific Northwest, conference participants found common ground on several seemingly intractable differences.

Everyone agreed that there must be a significant change from the failed federal policies of the past. All parties agreed that public lands in the US must be managed to protect entire ecosystems as biological communities, although environmentalists and the timber industry still differ over what this means.

To environmentalists, "ecosystem management" means "ecosystems"; to loggers, it means "management." Nonetheless, there is broad agreement that any ultimate federal solution must protect ancient forests that will support old-growth-dependent species of wildlife over the long haul. …

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