Forest managers claim U.S. officials pressure them into excessive logging

September 16, 1991|By Timothy Egan | Timothy Egan,New York Times News Service

KALISPELL, Mont. -- Supervisors of some of the nation's largest public forests say they have come under intense political pressure to cut more timber than the land can handle.

Already, grizzly bears and 20-pound bull trout are in trouble from excessive logging in the forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, biologists say.

Managers of these forests say they are slowing the government's logging program to protect fish and wildlife, but they say they are doing so at the risk of their jobs.

The timber industry, some Bush administration officials and other politicians argue that trees on the public lands of the Northern Rockies must be logged at a certain level to keep the regional economy afloat.

But Forest Service supervisors say Western senators and administration officials are trying to force them into unsound land stewardship to benefit the industry.

"The pressure is there and it is intense," said Orville Daniels, supervisor of the 2.5-million-acre Lolo National Forest in Montana.

Mr. Daniels and other foresters and biologists across the nation say they are caught in a squeeze between science and politics.

Last week, a congressional subcommittee began issuing subpoenas to top Forest Service officials, who are to appear at a Sept. 24 hearing, before the House Subcommittee on Civil Service, to determine whether professional land managers are being harassed.

A federal district judge in Seattle, in issuing an injunction against logging in parts of the Northwest, spoke of "executive branch" meddling in the agencies governing the nation's public forests.

The judge, William L. Dwyer, wrote on May 23 that there was "a deliberate and systematic refusal by the Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with laws protecting wildlife."

"This is not the doing of scientists, foresters, rangers and others at working levels of these agencies," continued Judge Dwyer, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1987. "It reflects decisions made by higher authorities in the executive branch of nTC government."

At the center of the Montana dispute is John W. Mumma, a 32-year Forest Service employee, who was forced into retirement at age 51 this month after Western Republican senators and timber industry executives complained that he was not allowing trees to be logged fast enough from the Rocky Mountains.

Mr. Mumma oversaw 25 million acres of public land in 13 National Forests in Montana, Idaho and the Dakotas.

The first biologist to hold the job of regional forester in the Northern Rockies, his ouster two weeks ago is seen by some in the service as a signal that the Bush administration is caving in to political pressure from the timber industry.

Top timber industry executives met recently with Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan, who oversees the Forest Service, and complained that Mr. Mumma was not putting enough trees up for sale.

Susan Hess, director of public affairs for the Forest Service, said his removal as regional forester was not an attempt to stifle dissident voices in the Forest Service, but rather "was due to the general job performance of Mr. Mumma."

The land Mr. Mumma oversaw is bigger than most states, and is perhaps the most sparsely populated area in the contiguous United States. But it supports huge trout, badgers, wolves, mountain goats, mountain lions, large herds of elk and deer, and the only sizable population of grizzly bears outside of Alaska.

It is also an area with large tracts of corporate timberland, primarily that of Plum Creek Timber Co., whose managers acknowledged several years ago that they were cutting far more trees than could grow back to replace them.

To try to repair some of the land after more than a decade of heavy cutting, forest supervisors throughout the region have been reducing the volume of timber, going below the targets set by Congress.

Commenting on Mr. Mumma in that memo, Mr. Kovalicky wrote, "John is the only regional forester in recent times who is fighting for resource balance."

But the refusal by federal land managers to cut as much timber as desired by industry has angered Republican senators like Larry E. Craig of Idaho and Conrad Burns of Montana.

Last May, Mr. Craig wrote a letter to F. Dale Robertson, the Chief of the Forest Service, in which he castigated the chief for not cutting trees fast enough in the Rocky Mountain region.

"You have serious management problems that must be addressed," Mr. Craig wrote in the May 23 letter. "It is my hope that you will move to assure targets are met and line officers are held accountable."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.