Clinton kicks off Northwest trip, pledging plan to end bitter logging fight

April 03, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

PORTLAND, OREGON — PORTLAND, Ore. -- At the end of an extraordinary, eight-hour summit meeting, not of world leaders but of ordinary Americans, President Clinton made a bold pledge last night to create within two months a plan for solving the dilemma between loggers and preservationists in the Pacific Northwest.

The president promised his administration's plan would both take into account the human needs of people threatened by mass job dislocation and ensure that no more timber was logged than the forests could bear. He vowed that the federal agencies under his command would no longer battle one another and said he hoped each side would avoid "the courtroom and stay in the conference room."

Hammering away at the spirit of conciliation that he found at the so-called timber summit here yesterday, the president told people who had come from all over Oregon, Washington and California, "When you hit an impasse, I plead with you not to lose heart -- and don't turn against your neighbor."

President Clinton had started his trip to the Northwest with a phone conversation with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. He then paused for five minutes to blast Senate Republicans for blocking his economic stimulus package before injecting himself into what is perhaps the most intractable jobs-vs.-environment issue in the country -- the controversy over logging in the Pacific Northwest.

After arriving here Thursday, Mr. Clinton placed a late night call to Mr. Yeltsin "just to get a sense of how the two days would go," according to the White House communications director, George Stephanopoulos.

Mr. Clinton went for an early morning run yesterday in the Oregon rain with Vice President Al Gore and Strobe Talbott, a longtime friend and ambassador-at-large to Russia and the former Soviet republics.

After a quick shower, Mr. Clinton appeared in the lobby of the Benson Hotel here and took a carefully calibrated whack at Senate Republicans who have used Senate parliamentary rules to delay passage of his $16.3 billion stimulus package.

"They are trying to kill this program because they don't believe the United States government has a responsibility to put people back to work," the president said.

In response to the Republicans' concern that much of the money will be used to finance unneeded examples of government pork, such as community golf courses or swimming pools, the president fumed, "That's just a sham. This program is their program. They liked trusting the governors and mayors when they had the White House. This is just pure politics -- and if they keep more people out of work, it's all right with them."

Minutes later, however, the president was in full compromise mode while kicking off the Forest Conference at the Oregon Convention Center along with Mr. Gore, five of the administration's Cabinet secretaries and five Western governors.

"For too long, the national government has done more to confuse the issues than to clarify them," Mr. Clinton said in his opening remarks. "In the absence of real leadership, at least six different federal agencies have hooked their horses to different sides of the cart, and then they've wondered why the cart wouldn't move forward."

Mr. Clinton was joined at the head of the table by Mr. Gore, who added, "The days when this debate was defined by either/or choices are over. This isn't about saving jobs or saving the environment. It's about saving jobs and the environment. A healthy forest economy demands healthy forests."

Again and again, Mr. Gore's sentiment was echoed by the citizen-panelists invited to speak at yesterday's conference -- whether the speakers were from logging families or environmental groups.

Diana Wales of the Umpqua Valley Audubon Society said those "most affected by the environmental decisions of this decade will be the children of our grandchildren."

Just the fact the conference was being held -- it originated with an election-year promise from Mr. Clinton when he visited here in September -- seemed to have a cathartic effect on many of those who gave testimonials.

But the apprehensions, fear and sense of betrayal expressed by those from the logging industry remain real and constitute the toughest hurdle Mr. Clinton's administration faces in trying to fashion any compromise.

Phyllis Straugher, mayor of Hoquiam, Wash., told the conference of looking at her 1-year-old and realizing that already in his young life, options that once were open are foreclosed to him.

"Are all of our children supposed to grow up and work for these multinational corporations because they are the only ones that can survive?" she asked.

That is the kind of feeling that has been prevalent in the Pacific Northwest in the almost two years since a federal judge halted much of the clear-cutting on U.S. Forest Service land because the spotted owl has become endangered.

The president spoke frankly to the loggers' families about the need to bend with a changing world. Every independent economist who has studied the thousands of lost jobs and dislocations in the Pacific Northwest has concluded that the spotted owl is nowhere near the biggest culprit.

Automation, Canadian imports, the export of raw logs to Asia and, mostly, over-cutting by the timber companies have caused most of the job losses. And most likely, those jobs are not coming back.

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