The Politics of Old-Growth

By Gray, Gerald J. | American Forests, September-October 1991 | Go to article overview

The Politics of Old-Growth


Gray, Gerald J., American Forests


The old-growth issue surfaced in 1991 with an intensity far beyond that of 1990. This dismayed some who thought the issue could be resolved without congressional action. Others saw such action as inevitable.

A number of factors heightened the sense of urgency this year and brought about a growing convergence of views on how the issue might be resolved. AFA's general strategy over the past two years has been to develop and promote legislative approaches, while holding to our principles for the protection and management of old-growth ecosystems.

TACKLING A TOUGHIE

Last year, opposing sides on the issue were extremely polarized and unwilling to negotiate any type of resolution. Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana introduced the Ancient Forest Protection Act early in 1990, setting out the environmental community's legislative proposals. The Jontz bill established a process for Congress to designate lands for permanent protection as ancient forest reserves.

The forest industry chose not to propose legislation in 1990 focusing specifically on the old-growth issue. Industry was not ready to acknowledge the need for old-growth reserves or new forest-management direction from Congress. Instead, it proposed legislation to amend the national forest planning process in order to provide more certainty that forest plans would in fact be implemented. This was the National Forest Plan Implementation Act sponsored by Senator Mark Hatfield and Representative Les AuCoin, both of Oregon.

AFA was uncomfortable with the Jontz bill, which was highly critical of professional forest-resource managers and minimized the role of the federal land-management agencies in designating old-growth reserves.

But we also recognized that the bill's 125 co-sponsors gave it substantial political clout and that Congress was becoming intent on resolving the issue. At the same time, the legal tangle in the Pacific Northwest forests was imposing burdens on forest-dependent communities, and the compromise struck in the previous year's Interior Appropriation's bill was coming to a close. We felt that the status quo wouldn't hold much longer.

Because we couldn't get the opposing sides to talk, we decided to develop our own approach to the issue, based on AFA's historic reliance on intelligent, science-based management.

We conferred with a broad range of experts on the issue and put together a set of principles for an old-growth resolution and a legislative framework to achieve that end. AFA Executive Vice President Neil Sampson presented our ideas in May 1990 testimony before three House subcommittees. In that testimony he called on Congress to direct the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to identify areas where old-growth forests still exist and establish plans to manage those areas, along with associated lands essential to the long-term maintenance of viable old-growth ecosystems.

Congressman Bruce Vento of Minnesota, who chairs the House Interior Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands, picked up our legislative framework, filled in some of the details with the help of Forest Service and BLM staff, and introduced the Ancient Forest Act in July 1990. The Vento bill proposes to create a 6.3-million-acre ancient forest reserve, set a substantially reduced annual timber sale level of 3 billion board-feet during a three-year interim study period, direct the Forest Service and BLM to manage old-growth outside the reserves under New Forestry principles, and provide economic assistance to affected workers and communities.

Although AFA didn't agree with everything in Vento's bill-such as the proposed size of the reserve -we supported the bill as a constructive approach. Vento's bill drew immediate and intense fire from the forest industry, which had apparently decided to oppose all old-growth legislation. We too received substantial criticism for our support of the bill-which we had expected (see AMERICAN FORESTS, March/April 1991). …

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