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The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 30, 1993

     The issue is how best to manage and protect 

federal forest lands in the Pacific northwest and northern California. Years of short-sighted and contradictory policy-making by previous Administrations have fueled a region-wide battle that has polarized communities, totally blocked any rational policy making, and left decisionmaking in the courts.

The Forest Conference represents an urgent and critically needed step toward a comprehensive and balanced long-term policy that recognizes the importance of the forests and timber to the economy and jobs in the region as well as the importance of America's old growth forests that, once they are gone, cannot be replaced. In addition, the Conference represents an opportunity to demonstrate that economic health does not need to be sacrificed to -- but in fact depends on -- sound environmental policies.


The debate centers on how all public forest lands should be managed to recognize the need to protect and preserve old growth forests, fish, wildlife, and water as well as the needs of the workers, businesses, and communities dependent on timber sales. Old growth forests are those at least 200 years old or older. Most remaining old growth forests are on federal lands. Nearly 90 percent of the region's old growth forests already have been logged. An estimated 8 to 9 million acres of old growth forest remain today.

Throughout the Bush Administration, key agencies responsible for managing federal forest lands (Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Land Management in the Department of Interior) simultaneously pursued not only contradictory policies, but policies the courts have ruled were in violation of federal laws (principally the Endangered Species Act [ESA], the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA], and the National Forest Management Act [NFMA]). The debate was polarized, and gridlock ensued. As a result, court injunctions have stopped most Forest Service and some BLM timber sales, with serious economic consequences for the region.


Federal land managers historically, and through the Bush Administration, emphasized commodity uses of federal lands, e.g. logging, mining, and grazing, over conservation of natural ecosystems. Easily accessible old growth forests on federal and private lands were extensively logged long ago, creating increasingly heavy reliance on the remaining old growth forests on federal lands. These old growth forests are in demand because of the size and quality of the trees to the timber industry. Second growth forests on most private lands are still 15 to 20 years away from harvestable age.

The old growth forests support a broad range of plants and animals and the health of these forests impacts further on the area's rivers and streams -- meaning that fish also are affected by the state of these forests. For example, the region's salmon industry, which employs an estimated 60,000 people, has already been affected by reduced fish harvests due, in part, to habitat degradation of rivers and streams in logged areas. Destroying the old growth forests has a domino effect on entire communities --reducing jobs in tourism and fishing, recreational opportunities, hunting and fishing, and endangering water supplies. Old growth forests also contain a number of known and unknown species which offer promise, such as the Pacific yew tree, whose bark yields taxol, a possible cure for breast cancer.


The northern spotted owl range is located in the forests west of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, Oregon, and northern California. Within that range, the owls preferred habitat is old growth forests.

The Department of Agriculture's Forest Service manages 23 million acres in spotted owl range. The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages 2.4 million acres in spotted owl range in Oregon and northern California.

The debate has focused on the environmental and economic benefits and costs of protecting the northern spotted owl. From 1984, when the Forest Service adopted guidelines for managing the owl's habitat on national forests in Washington and Oregon through today, this debate has been marked by contradictory and sloppy policy-making that has forced the issue into the courts.

The debate intensified over the past five years, particularly since the Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern spotted owl as threatened in July 1990. The courts during this time repeatedly concluded that the
Bush Administration was acting in violation of existing laws and issued injunctions stopping major timber sales. The Bush Administration, for example, agreed to list the owl as threatened but refused to act to protect the areas where the owl lives. Later, unhappy with the findings of the Interagency Scientific Committee, which was charged with examining the issues, the Bush Administration convened its own task force that produced a 1-1/2 page press release asking Congress to pass legislation enabling certain Forest Service and BLM timber sales to proceed and be insulated from forest management laws.

Using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and "viable populations of species" standard of the National Forest Management Act, environmental groups have challenged Forest Service and BLM plans to sell timber in spotted owl habitat. The ESA prohibits agencies from taking actions which will "jeopardize the continued existence" of an endangered or threatened species, a determination which the Fish and Wildlife Service makes. National Forest Management Act regulations call for maintenance of viable populations of native vertebrates well distributed within the area.

A series of injunctions by the Seattle District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals have stalled almost all timber sales in spotted owl habitat in Washington, Oregon, and northern California since 1989.

Almost routinely, the courts said the Bush Administration abused its discretion, acted arbitrarily and capriciously and violated the law. For example, in May 1991, Judge William Dwyer in Seattle District Court ruled that, "...a deliberate and systematic refusal by the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with the laws protecting wildlife ...[demonstrates] a remarkable series of violations of the environmental laws."


The scientific understanding of old growth forest ecosystem has evolved significantly in the past five years. Scientists have conducted three key independent assessments:

  1. The Interagency Scientific Committee (ISC) in 1990
  2. The Scientific Panel on Late Successional Forest Ecosystems in 1991
  3. The Scientific Analysis Team (SAT) of the Forest Service in 1993

All three have confirmed the need to set aside larger areas of habitat to protect species which depend on old growth forest ecosystems, such as northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and several species of salmon.

The most recent scientific assessment on this issue from the Scientific Analysis Team was released Friday, March 19. This report was prepared by a team of 24 government scientists in response to a court order. The conclusion of these scientists is that significant acreage (no specific numbers) of public forest land will need to be protected if old growth species are to survive.

The SAT report responds to specific questions raised by Judge Dwyer. It is a scientific study prepared to answer a court order, not a statement of policy. The team considered not just protection of the spotted owl, but protection of the entire old growth ecosystem as a way to prevent a piecemeal and crisis-driven approach to land management. Its conclusions identify some 482 additional species that rely on old growth forests.


The forests of the Pacific Northwest and northern California have provided the foundation for the region's economy for the past century. Though historically important as a source of employment in the northwest, the timber industry has been declining in importance as other sectors of the economy have grown. In 1970, timber-related jobs accounted for about 10 percent of total regional employment. By 1989, timber employment was at about 140,000 jobs or about 4 percent of total regional employment. However, some rural areas depend almost totally on forest industries.

In the northwest region, economic growth in the past two decades has diversified a regional economy that was once much more heavily dependent on manufacturing and timber. While many rural counties are vulnerable, overall economic conditions and trends in the northwest show substantial strength. After many years of somewhat sluggish economic growth, the Pacific Northwest economy has shown strong growth since 1986. The rate of employment growth in Oregon and Washington exceeded the U.S. average in every year since 1986.

About 43 percent of the timber land in the affected region is owned by the federal government, with the remainder in state or private hands. Federal timber sales provide local communities receipts of between $200 and $500 million dollars annually.

During the 1980s, the northern spotted owl region (public and private lands) accounted for more than 30 percent of the lumber produced in the United States. Because about one-third of recent timber harvests in the owl region occur on federal lands, about 10 percent of domestic timber supply potentially is affected by spotted owl protection.

Increased harvest levels have failed to increase jobs proportionately. Increased mechanization in harvesting, transporting, and milling has lowered the labor required for producing lumber. During the 1980s, for example, the number of jobs in the lumber and wood products sectors declined from 10 jobs per million board feet of harvest to below 8 jobs per million board feet. From 1981 to 1989, while harvest levels increased by 44 percent in Oregon and Washington, there was no increase in employment in forest products.

Mill closings follow a similar trend. In 1968, Oregon had 300 sawmills; by 1988 the state had 165 mills. In Washington, the number of mills fell from 182 in 1978 to 118 mills in 1988, while the total number of wood processing establishments (including veneer and plywood, pulp, shake and shingle plants and other operations) fell from 764 in 1978 to 351 in 1988.

These trends preceded the old-growth controversy. While the spotted owl often is blamed for weak employment, the long term projections indicate steady declines in employment for any given level of timber harvest.

Export-related issues are expected to be raised at the Forest Conference. It is important to note that by law, logs from federal lands cannot be exported and log exports from stateowned lands are highly restricted. However,
substantial volumes of timber cut from private lands in the northwest are exported to Japan, Korea, and China with minimal domestic processing.