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The Salvage Timber Sales Law: A Serious Threat to Public Lands Management

February 1996

Citation: ELR 10065

Author: Tara L. Mueller

Despite the recent furor over the environmental damage threatened by the Republican-dominated 104th Congress, the so-called salvage logging bill—a rider on a budget-rescissions bill1—so far is one of the few changes to environmental protection programs actually signed into law. One should not assume, however, that the logging rider's ability to survive a Presidential veto means that it is an innocuous compromise. To the contrary, if this law (coined the "logging without laws" bill by many environmentalists) is any indication of things to come, it should alarm all but the most hardcore antienvironmental advocates. As National Audubon Society Vice President Brock Evans has put it: "The rule of law is gone in all the Nation's public forests."2 In addition to the substantial environmental damage being wrought, the law will cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $ 500 million to 1 billion, including millions for new road construction.3

Just a few months old, the new law already has forced the federal government to release salvage timber sales contracts affecting hundreds of acres of public lands nationwide. The bill may seriously undermine implementation of President Clinton's hard-won "Option 9" Pacific Northwest Forest Plan,4 recently upheld by a federal district court.5 Moreover, congressional proponents of the logging bill are keeping the pressure on the federal government to continue to release timber sales at a rapid pace. Members of Congress have formed a Congressional Task Force on Salvage Timber and Forest Health that is closely monitoring federal agencies' compliance with Pub. L. No. 104-19. The Task Force already has held one hearing in Washington, D.C. and several field hearings.

Ms. Mueller is a staff attorney at the Natural Heritage Institute—a non-profit, public interest, natural resources law and consulting firm in San Francisco. Her practice focuses on endangered species, timber, water, wetlands, environmental quality, and land use law. She is the author of the Guide to Federal and California Endangered Species Laws, published by the Planning and Conservation League Foundation in Sacramento in 1994 and supplemented in 1995. The author thanks Ms. Kristen Boyles, Attorney, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, for her review of and comments on this Dialogue.