WILD FOREST REVIEW                             November 1994

WILDFLOWERS                                  LAUREN ESSERMAN
Breaking the Conventional Wisdom: The Saga of the Bryant Bill
       As the disappointing 103rd Congress stumbled to a close last month, the proposed Forest Biodiversity and Clearcutting Prohibition Act, surprisingly, had more than a hundred cosponsors in the House and, in the eleventh hour, made an appearance in the Senate. While this is still far short of the votes needed, it is impressive progress, especially during a session when environmentalists made few gains. Even more encouraging - and peculiar - the bill is getting stronger - not weaker - through each successive round of the legislative process.
       Commonly known as the Bryant bill, this legislation would put an end to clearcutting on all federal land - Forest Service, BLM, and Fish and Wildlife Service lands as well as Indian reservations and military bases. It would give the agencies a mandate to conserve and restore native biological diversity "in each stand and each watershed throughout each forested area". And now, in its new incarnation (S.2543), the version introduced in the Senate by David Boren (D-OK) on October 7, it would prohibit all logging - even helicopter logging - in roadless areas and offer complete protection to 16 areas of particular concern, such as the 94,000-acre Cove/Mallard in Idaho, a vital wilderness corridor.
       This bill is the only existing legislative vehicle for nationwide forest policy reform, yet, unfortunately, in the five years since its debut in the House, neither the large, national environmental groups who prefer softer compromises, nor the radical vanguard of the movement, who say the bill doesn't go far enough, have thrown much weight behind it. Nonetheless, the understaffed, underfunded Save America's Forests, leading a coalition of 500 grassroots groups from their modest office at the foot of Capitol Hill, have been patiently building a constituency behind it for the last four years, and their efforts are beginning to pay off.
       "Everybody thought we had about a zero chance of getting to this point, and we're going to go a lot father," says Carl Ross, who, together with Mark Winstein, set up Save America's Forests (SAF) in 1990 to give grassroots forest activists throughout the country a voice in Washington. Ross is optimistic that if the movement starts to invest more effort into it, the bill could pass within the next four years.
       The person who got all of this started, of course, is Ned Fritz, director of the Dallas - based Federal Forest Reform, who has devoted the past 20 years to the struggle to end clearcutting on national forests. After leading two high-profile lawsuits and writing three books on the subject, Fritz, together with Texas congressman John Bryant, crafted the bill in 1989. "We found that courts are a difficult place to establish forest reform," Fritz says now, looking back on the genesis of the bill. "Even if a court finds in your favor, an appeal or a completely different jurisdiction could find the other way. Having an airtight law became an obvious desirability."
       In 1976, Fritz, a retired trial lawyer, led his group, the Texas Committee On Natural Resources, in a suit to stop the Forest Service from clearcutting a patch of national forest in East Texas. He argued that clearcutting was illegal on three grounds: the Organic Act of 1897, the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act (clearcutting precludes several uses protected by that act, such as recreation, wildlife, and soil conservation), and NEPA, which required the Forest Service to prepare an EIS before proceeding with an activity that was likely to have a significant impact (at that time, the agency did not routinely prepare EISs for clearcuts).
       The case was tried during a watershed year for forest policy. Only months before, in the landmark Monongahela decision, a West Virginia hunters' group, the Isaak Walton League, successfully argued that clearcutting violated the Organic Act of 1897, which established the purpose of the national forests and stated that the agency could only sell trees marked for cutting. Fritz's case followed suit, winning a permanent injunction on all clearcutting on national forests in Texas. However, the Monongahela victory had put the timber beasts in a fury, and they swept through the Hill with a vengeance. With the help of Senator Hubert Humphrey, they passed the National Forest Management Act later that year. NFMA explicitly legalized clearcutting, a practice the agency had been using on a widespread basis since 1964, the year of the Wilderness Act. As a result, the Texas and West Virginia injunctions were both overturned on appeal.
       Now, nearly 20 years later, the Forest Biodiversity bill, once a pipedream, is beginning to gain momentum on the Hill, in large part due to the relentless, door-to-door lobbying efforts of Save America's Forests. This past year, Bryant's bill, H.R. 1164 gained 58 new cosponsors in the House - bringing the total to 107 - went through two subcommittee hearings, and was, for the second time, introduced in the Senate. Moreover, for the first time since the passage of NFMA, Congress was drawn into a debate on the evils of clearcutting. This was in May, when Congressman Bryant proposed a statewide version of his bill as an amendment to Pat Williams's weak Montana Wilderness Bill. The intrepid Bryant made his proposal in the face of strong opposition from the powerful Minnesota congressman Bruce Vento, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Natural Resources. "He's been fearless," says Ross.
       The proposed amendment won 142 votes, far short of the 218 need to pass, but enough to win the attention of the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club, both of whom finally wrote strong letters to Congress endorsing Bryant's bill in June. This swayed the League of Conservation Voters to put the Forest Biodiversity Bill on the LCV scorecard, a rating that congress people eye anxiously when courting the green vote. It remains to be seen whether the nationals, having finally endorsed the bill, will now spend any money or effort on it.

       Meanwhile, the contents of the bill have been getting more palatable each time it is reintroduced, largely a result of SAF's ongoing dialogue with grassroots

activists. The original version, visionary for its time, indeed fell far short of the mark. It did not protect roadless areas. It did not even ban all clearcutting. "The original bill had this clause in there that clearcutting was okay on ten percent of the forests," says Ross. "We said, that's got to come out."
      The second major change came when Bryant reintroduced the bill in 1992 with the addition of a "no roads in roadless areas" provision. This transformed the bill significantly. In the past, hardcore activists have been skeptical of, and in some cases opposed to, the Bryant bill, because it advocates a switchover from clearcutting to selection logging, rather than banning all forms of commercial logging. Not only is this inadequate, they have said, but it might even hasten the rush of roads, helicopters, and chainsaws into the 60 million remaining acres of roadless areas in the Forest Service system, because it would force the Forest Service to spread the cut over a greater area.
       "The Forest Service was claiming that it took more roads to do selection management than to do even-age logging," says Fritz, whose defense of selection logging has been a sticky point for many forest activists. "We had proof to the contrary, but rather than jeopardize roadless areas by providing an excuse to stuff more roads in there, we felt it was best to ban any more roads in roadless areas."
       That still left a giant loophole, a loophole large enough for a bevy of helicopters to fly through. Helicopters are the agency's new way of sneaking around laws intended to protect steep terrain, reserves and roadless areas - laws that are built around the now erroneous assumption that logging involves roadbuilding. So the new Senate version closes that loophole. It not only says "no roads in roadless areas" but also says "no helicopters in roadless areas." "I don't know what that leaves," says Ross. "Oxen?"
       Closing the loophole in roadless area protection arguably makes this, if passed, the most significant piece of forest legislation since the Wilderness Act of 1964. "It really preserves the kind of vast acreages needed to begin to address the world extinction crisis," says Ross.
       The Boren bill, now titled "The Forest Biodiversity, Special Area Protection, and Clearcutting Prohibition Act," also further restricts the pace for cutting, from 30 percent of a given stand in 30 years to 30 percent in 40 years. This would lengthen the rotation to at least 133 years, allowing for a greater number of older trees. And it extends complete protection to a list of about 16 "special areas" touching upon every region of the country and totaling 1,329,000 acres, including the north rim of the Grand Canyon, Vermont's Lamb Brook and Glastonbury areas, portions of the Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon, Alaska's Honker Divide, and other places forest activists have deemed especially worthy of preservation.
       The "special areas" provision is an experiment to get activists more invested in the bill. It is a growing list, and submissions are encouraged. "It's a great idea," says Mat Jacobson of Green Mountain Forest Watch, expressing the sentiment of a growing list of key activists. "It definitely makes me more motivated to work for it, because my areas are in it." Fritz is more cautious about the "special areas" addition, concerned about overladening the bill. "I don't know how the congressmen will react. I'm for it, but maybe in a separate bill." While the concern is understandable, the idea won a strong reception among grassroots activists. In Jacobson's view, "it helps turn local issues into national issues, and it also works the other way. It gets the Bryant bill into local papers and gets our local congresspeople involved. For the first time, we have articles on it in Vermont papers."
       "The bill had really come a long way since we started four years ago," says Ross. "It's a lot better than radicals realize, and it keeps getting better," acknowledging that the radical edge of the forest protection movement has not always been supportive, particularly because they see the bill as a distraction from a "zero cut" campaign. Hardcore activists are skeptical of compromise, wary of any deal that would save some places by giving up others, but this bill doesn't do that, moreover, the efforts of Save America's Forests do not collide with, but rather support, more hardline campaigns in various regions.
      With the addition of the special areas provision and meaningful protection for all roadless areas, zero cutters on the grassroots level are beginning to get on board. Representative of this new tide are Jacobson, in Vermont, and Lamar Marshall of the Bankhead Monitor, a prominent forest activist in Alabama, both of whom look upon the Bryant bill as a strong step in the right direction. Echoing Jacobson, Marshall says, "I especially like Boren's bill, with its special areas attachment. It protects the Sipsey Watershed on the Bankhead, so I strongly support it. I'm for zero cut, but I don't think we can pass zero cut as fast as the Bryant bill."
      Save America's Forests' approach has been to start modestly and keep strengthening the bill, at the same time patiently building a political constituency to back it up. This is very different, notes Ross, from the way activists are used to getting things done, which is "to ask for ten times what you need in order to get half of what you want." It is a people's bill, a grassroots initiative, and because of this slow-growing process, Ross does not expect the bill to get whittled to shreds before it passes. "It's a bill that is reasonable from the point of view of the American public," says Ross. "We believe we can get exactly what were asking for."