Forest Service wants to ax low-price logging in 62 national forests by 1998

April 30, 1993|By New York Times News Service

RESERVE, N.M. -- Under orders from the White House to try again to put federal timber sales on a sounder economic footing, the U.S. Forest Service has proposed changes that would end logging on more than a third of the national forests by 1998.

Environmental groups and other opponents of the timber sales have long argued that the government charges too little and provides too many services to companies that log national forests, at a cost to taxpayers at hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Top Clinton administration officials have said they want to raise fees or halt logging, but they backed off earlier plans to push such proposals in the face of congressional opposition.

Now F. Dale Robertson, the chief of the Forest Service, has developed a plan, which he sent this week to federal forest managers and some timber industry executives, to end low-price logging in 62 of the 156 national forests.

Among the areas affected would be the Jefferson and George Washington forests in Virginia.

If the White House approves the proposal, which could be put into effect without congressional approval, it would mean a huge political victory for the national environmental movement.

The national forests provided 7.3 billion board feet of timber last year, or roughly 12 percent of the 58 billion board feet used in the United States. If the plan is put into effect, timber harvest on federal forests would drop to 4 billion to 4.5 billion board feet by the end of the decade.

Staff members of several environmental groups support the Forest Service's efforts. "The federal timber program does not contribute to community stability no matter how you define it," says Jeffrey Olson, an economist with the Wilderness Society in Washington.

VTC But critics of the proposal say Mr. Olson and other environmentalists are taking a narrow view that fails to recognize the consequences for millions of Americans. While a reduced

timber supply could affect wood prices nationally, the policy means profound changes on dozens of communities where logging jobs would be lost.

The proposal affects more than 60 million acres of forest land in 23 states and would be one of the most significant changes in how the public forests are managed in the 88-year history of the Forest Service. Agency officials say those forests were chosen as the clearest examples of areas where current logging practices cost the government millions of dollars.

In February, President Clinton announced a program to end the long tradition of encouraging logging, mining and ranching on public lands through tax breaks, subsidies and other economic incentives.

Mr. Clinton tried to increase the costs to logging companies of harvesting timber in national forests as part of his budget proposal, but after objections by Western Democratic senators the president dropped it from the budget earlier this month.

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