17. Clinton's Option 9 Plan: A Resounding Defeat for Ancient Forests

Sources: LIES OF OUR TIMES, Date: November 1993, Title: "Ancient Forests Meet the Press," Author: Jeffrey St. Clair; THE NATION, Date: 8/23/93, Title: "Munich in the Redwoods," Author: Alexander Cockburn

SSU Censored Researcher: Sunil Sharma

SYNOPSIS: On July 1, in the wake of the forest summit held in Portland, Oregon on April 2, 1993, President Clinton announced his administration's plan for the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. The plan, known as Option 9, drew laudatory coverage from the mainstream media which heralded it as a victory for environmentalists. However, a close look at Option 9 reveals that it is a major defeat for environmentalists ...and the ancient forests.

Immediately following the summit, a team of experts, headed by Forestry Service ecologist and ecosystems advocate Jack Ward Thomas, were given only two months by the Clinton administration to come up with a range of options for managing the Northwest forests in a way that would protect the spotted owl, the marbled murrelet, and salmon, "while also providing a steady flow to Northwest mills." The team met their June 2 deadline and presented the administration with eight options. All eight options called for significant reductions in timber sales. While Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt earlier had promised loggers the administration would quickly release at least 2 billion board-feet of timber, most of the plans would have limited the cutting to 500 million board-feet annually.

This was simply unacceptable to the Clinton administration. Thomas was quickly replaced by Jerry Franklin of Washington University who put together Option 9 in less than three weeks.

The plan espouses the already discredited notion of a network of "riparian corridors" and old-growth reserves. A forest reserve is generally defined as an area where no logging is permitted. However, under Option 9, the system of reserves are considered to be neither inviolate nor permanent. Every reserve would be open to thinning operations and timber salvage sales.

Less than five percent of the original old growth forest still exists, located mainly in national forests and on public land. (The Mt. Hood National Forest in Oregon has been cut more heavily than the Brazilian rainforest). Nonetheless, under Option 9, "At least 40 percent of the remaining old-growth would be subject to clear-cutting." And the remaining 60 percent isn't considered inviolate! These lands provide habitat for thousands of plant and animal species. Option 9 threatens over 100 of these species, which depend on the old growth forests, with eventual extinction.

According to Jeffrey St. Clair, editor of ForestWatch magazine, two million acres of Northwest forests are essentially wild roadless areas which are "vital repositories of biological diversity," critical to the survival of many species. Under Option 9, St. Clair said, these areas receive no special attention; "Clear-cutting would continue even in the most ecologically sensitive roadless areas." Option 9 also proposes to exempt private landowners from the Endangered Species Act, allowing them to clear-cut spotted owl and murrelet habitat. Clinton's announcement of Option 9 came before the study itself was even released. St. Clair reported that the vast majority of news stories "were filed before reporters had actually seen the 1,800-page plan." Most of the stories, which the American public read, were based on a vague nine-page White House press release. Furthermore, the administration ordered its scientists to circumvent the Freedom of Information Act; and all background documents, relating to the development of Option 9 and detailing the extent of political pressure, were either shredded or sealed.

COMMENTS: Jeffrey St. Clair, investigative author and editor of ForestWatch magazine, charged that President Clinton's new Option 9 forest plan "received lots of hype and initial exposure, but little analysis and almost no follow-up. The analysis that was published was either superficial, politically biased, and/or flat-out wrong."

St. Clair feels it was important for the public to know more about this issue: "The President's forest -- plan was the Clinton administration's first major policy decision on an environmental issue. The tactics of the administration on this issue revealed much about how they would treat other issues, like wetlands, public land grazing, the Endangered Species Act, and Clean Water Act."

According to St. Clair, the interests being served by the limited coverage given the Option 9 forest plan include the Clinton administration, labor, timber interests, and Japanese timber importers.

St. Clair said that The Nation, High Country News, and Lies Of Our Times continue to be the only publications to pursue in-depth political reporting and investigation into this issue. Other articles he has written on the subject have been rejected by the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, the Option 9 plan, so widely-touted by the mainstream media as the solution to the logging vs. environmentalist controversy in mid-1993 appeared to be unraveling by the end of the year.

On November 26, USA Today reported that the plan was "fraying at both ends." Environmentalists claim the plan breaks the law because it doesn't protect Northern spotted owls and 400 other species dependent on ancient forests. Timber and paper companies claim the plan is economically damaging, unscientific, and will result in dangerous wildfires in the region. And by December 11, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that a new Clinton proposal to relax logging requirements on private lands in the Northwest had renewed the controversy over the spotted owl.

Ironically, as 1993 drew to a close, the Clinton administration turned to the person whose original eight proposals had been rejected. Jack Ward Thomas, the career Forest Service wildlife biologist from LaGrande, Oregon, was named the new chief of the U.S. Forest Service in an apparent effort to restore the reputation of the agency.