Appropriations Bill Provision Survives Senate Challenge

Published December 1, 1999

A provision to give the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture wide discretion on how species surveys are conducted on federal lands, added to the Senate Appropriations Bill (Section 329) by Senators Slade Gorton (R-Washington) and Larry Craig (R-Idaho), escaped its first test recently. The provision would, under the National Forest Management Act, allow the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to determine the extent of comprehensive new surveys required before selling logging contracts on federal lands they control.

Senator Charles Robb (D-Virginia) offered an amendment to delete the Gorton-Craig provision from the appropriations bill, but that amendment was defeated.

Noted Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry, “The defeat of this amendment is a victory for the environment and for sound forest management. It is also a significant setback for those who oppose active management of our forests. [The Gorton-Craig provision] will enable local forest professionals, instead of lawyers and judges, to get back to the business of managing our forests for the benefit of all Americans.”

Anti-logging groups were upset at the defeat of Robb’s amendment, and particularly with Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana). The Sierra Club claims she signed a letter just weeks before the vote opposing the Gorton-Craig provision. “In July, Senator Landrieu wrote that she cared about healthy forests, but when push came to shove, she failed to stand up for America’s wildlife and National Forests,” groused Sean Cosgrove, Sierra Club’s forest policy specialist.

Landrieu replied, “After listening to the debate and speaking with my colleagues on this matter, I was persuaded that a recent court decision threatened to disrupt a good environmental solution and made the change necessary. I am confident that my vote will protect the environment and our wildlife and not subject timber harvests to years of unnecessary delays.”

A Forest Service spokesman, Rex Holloway of Portland, told Environment News the agency’s position is that the “[Gorton-Craig provision] is not necessary because our Supplemental Environmental Assessments should address the court’s issues.” Others argue, however, that completing these assessments will take several months, after which months of litigation will almost certainly follow.

The Gorton-Craig provision is expected to allow timber associations to appeal to such judges as Federal District Court Judge William Dwyer in Seattle (see related story this centerspread) to allow logging contracts to proceed if the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture determine adequate surveys were completed.

The Gorton-Craig provision, because it is attached to an appropriations bill, would be in force for only one year.