Conference Committee Approves Compromise
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A House-Senate conference committee Friday approved a compromise designed to protect the spotted owl while permitting logging in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.
The compromise was reached after a tense day of negotiations and approved in a closed-door meeting.
″I would say environmentalists came out with a pretty deal as well as the workers in the timber community,″ said Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.
The compromise provides that:
-Federal timber sales in the region would be set at 9.6 billion board feet over the next 12 months, about 1 billion board feet below current levels.
-The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would be required to ″minimize fragmentation of significant old-growth forest stands″ and no sales would be allowed in areas already identified as spotted owl habitat.
-Court challenges to individual timber sales would be allowed, but they would have to be filed within 15 days of the sale offering and the courts would have to decide within 45 days.
-Roughly half of the 2 billion board feet in sales currently enjoined by federal courts would be released.
Both the House and Senate could act next week on the broader legislation that embodies it, the $11 billion appropriations bill for the Interior Department and related agencies.
Lawmakers have been searching for a way to ensure Northwest mills of a steady supply of timber from the region’s old-growth forests while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides whether to declare the northern spotted owl an endangered species.
Such declarations require federal agencies to protect the habitats of the species in question. The spotted owl lives almost exclusively in old-growth forests and each pair requires a very large area.
Hatfield said the compromise would assure the industry of a steady supply of timber over the next year by insulating it from lawsuits and appeals which at one point had tied up half the sales planned in the region during the current fiscal year.
″We protected habitat and jobs,″ said Rep. Les AuCoin, D-Ore.
Jim Bloomquist of the Sierra Club said the compromise appeared to be something environmentalists could accept. He cited a smaller harvest, more protection for owls and virgin timber and elimination of a Senate provision that would have imposed a 12-month ban on federal court orders blocking timber sales.
″It is a positive response to many of the concerns we had with the Senate legislation,″ Bloomquist said.
While AuCoin, Hatfield and other members from the region acknowledged the there still may be layoffs in the industry, they said they legislation would minimize the economic damage to the region.
The breakthrough came in a meeting in the office of House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., when critics of a Senate plan opposed hotly by environmentalists dropped a threat to wage a floor fight.
Foley said Reps. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., Jim Jontz, D-Ind., and other opponents of the Senate plan assured him they would not stage a floor fight over the time limits on lawsuits in the compromise.
Foley made it clear he wanted to avoid a floor fight on a regional issue just months after becoming speaker.
Gus Kuehne of Tacoma, Wash., president of the Northwest Independent Forest Manufacturers, said he doubted the House plan would provide enough timber to keep the region’s timber mills in full operation.
″I would have preferred that Northwest members hang tough and battle it out on the floor, even if it meant losing,″ he said.