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Baird Provokes Logging Opponents

by Kathie Durbin
The Columbian, March 5, 2006

The radio spots broadcast on Portland's liberal talk radio station last week pulled no punches: "Why is Congressman Brian Baird helping Republican Greg Walden fast-track reckless logging in America's national forests? Call Baird and tell him the last thing our national forests need are more bulldozers and chain saws."

The ads, paid for by the Oregon Natural Resources Council, are the latest proof that Baird, a liberal Democrat from Vancouver with a green voting record, has fallen out of favor with his environmental constituency.

"I definitely know many people who have worked on Baird's campaign staff in the past who won't be doing that this year," said Emily Platt, executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force, an environmental group. "It seems Baird has joined the Bush administration strategy of attacking good, respected science that happens to disagree with political objectives."

One former supporter said there's talk of running a spoiler candidate against Baird in the September primary and even of supporting his Republican opponent in November.

Baird dismayed supporters last year when he agreed to co-sponsor a bill with Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., to speed salvage logging in national forests with high tree mortality resulting from fire or windstorms.

The supporters' disenchantment grew last weekend, when Baird aggressively questioned 29-year-old graduate student Daniel Donato at a congressional field hearing in Medford, Ore., about his data and the methodology he used in conducting a federally funded $300,000 research project that studied the effects of salvage logging.

Scientist grilled
Former Oregon Congressman Les AuCoin, a Democrat, accused Walden and Baird of using the hearing "to launch what bordered on a Star Chamber attack" against the Oregon State University student's research, which was published in the respected journal Science.

Donato surveyed plots in the Biscuit fire area of southwest Oregon to measure the effects of a massive Forest Service salvage logging project. The 2002 Biscuit fire burned nearly a half-million acres of the Siskiyou-Rogue River National Forest. Donato concluded that salvage logging killed young Douglas fir seedlings that had regenerated on their own and that the slash left behind increased the risk of future fires.

Professors from the OSU College of Forestry tried to halt the publication of Donato's research. After its publication, the federal Bureau of Land Management cut off the final year of the three-year grant funding the work. That triggered accusations of censorship and interference with academic freedom by some congressional Democrats. The BLM later restored the grant, and the university disavowed the forestry professors' efforts to squelch the study.

Donato's study is not the only research that has concluded salvage logging can inflict further damage on scorched forests.

University of Washington forest ecologist Jerry F. Franklin, an expert on forest health, told a House subcommittee considering the Walden-Baird bill in November, "Salvage logging generally cannot be justified on the basis that it contributes to the recovery of forest ecosystems following catastrophic disturbances. There is essentially no scientific support for the view that salvage logging can contribute direct positive benefits to ecological recovery; there is abundant scientific evidence that salvage logging can have diverse and significant negative impacts on ecological recovery."

But Baird said he has read many studies on post-fire salvage logging and has reached a different conclusion.

"There is, in fact, a large body of science and real-world experience that says we can get trees out in a responsible way that is economically viable and still protect the environment," he said. "It is simply not accurate to say that all of the science says we should never log."

As for accusations that he bullied Donato, Baird, who has a doctorate in psychology, said: "Part of being a scientist is asking tough questions." He said Donato declined his request for the data on which his study was based. Green votes

Baird rejected the accusation that he has allied himself with the Bush administration on environmental and scientific issues.

"I serve on the Science Committee," he said. "I have a strong environmental record. In the last year alone, I voted to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I voted against ill-considered changes to the Endangered Species Act. I opposed the administration's retrograde energy policy. I founded the national park caucus and have led efforts against the administration's proposed revision of the parks mission."

Baird said the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act he agreed to co-sponsor protects stream buffers, requires removal of all roads built to get access to burned timber, and specifies that projects to remove dead and damaged trees must be based on peer-reviewed science. As of Tuesday, the bill had 145 co-sponsors.

"It's unfortunate people would say they disagree with me on one or two issues and therefore they are going to vote against me," he said. "Isn't it possible that people can have a legitimate disagreement? It is a bizarre form of reasoning, and a self-destructive form of reasoning, to say, 'If we disagree on this one thing, you have somehow gone to the dark side and we must destroy you politically.'"

But conservationists say Baird has not leveled with the public on how his bill would expedite salvage logging.

"Rep. Baird has not been up-front with his constituents" on the process set forth in the bill, Platt said. "It sweeps away endangered species protections, and it allows for logging in drinking-water watersheds and old-growth reserves."

The bill would exempt salvage projects from many public review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and fast-track consultation with federal agencies over the potential impacts of logging on threatened and endangered species.

Brian Wolfe, a Vancouver attorney, port commissioner and a member of the Loowit Chapter of the Sierra Club, said his chapter has been trying to work with Baird on making the bill acceptable, but members still have serious concerns.

"We have more and more information that causes us to believe that the bill is not well-founded," he said. "While we want to work with Baird, I don't know if we can. We can't necessarily support the bill if it doesn't get changed dramatically, and we have no sign that it's going to be. There are a lot of things that aren't in the bill to safeguard the environment."

Jay Ward, executive director of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, said the council took the unusual step of paying $2,000 for ads attacking a congressman from Washington because of Baird's high profile on the salvage logging issue.

"We decided that since Congressman Baird is in this media market, and since he's been the pit bull on this, we would focus on him. He's a congressman because he convinced the good people of Washington that he was an environmentalist. He's using that now to push legislation that would be very damaging."

Bob Dick, Washington manager for the American Forest Resource Council, said Baird's sponsorship of the salvage logging bill "won't lose him any votes" with the timber industry.

"Congressman Baird has always been really straight with us," he said. "There have been times he's been with us and never wavered, and other times he's been straight with us, saying, 'I can't go there.' He's not been a friend of the industry but he's not an enemy either." Salmon recovery

Columbia-Snake River salmon
It's not only Baird's support of salvage logging that has environmental groups using terms like "dismayed" to describe their reactions. Some also are disturbed by his position on the recovery of threatened and endangered Columbia-Snake River salmon.

At a hearing in October in Vancouver, Baird took issue with an order by U.S. District Judge James Redden directing federal agencies to do more to address the effects of Columbia River and Snake River dams on a dozen runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead. Redden even suggested that federal dam operators should consider the possibility of breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

At the time, Baird rejected that option, saying it would be far too costly to the region. Instead, he said, more should be done to address the incidental catch of wild fish migrating upriver to spawn.

At the hearing, fisheries experts cited statistics showing that the harvest of wild fish was a relatively minor contributor to salmon mortality. But Baird said later, "I don't accept the data or the premise."

In an interview Tuesday, he reiterated his opposition to even considering dam breaching. "Those who are so adamant about tearing down dams, I'm going to ask them to explain: 'Where are we going to get that power from?'" he said. "I have never seen a credible analysis of where we are going to get that energy."

Baird added that spilling water to aid juvenile salmon migration rather than sending it through turbines to generate electricity carries environmental costs. "When we require summer spill, that power will have to be generated by something far less clean than hydro."

Paul Shively, Northwest representative for the Sierra Club, said Baird's position on salmon recovery will make it hard to work with him in the future.

"He is doing a very good job of getting the fish wars going again, at a time when we could truly make progress and address the real issues involving the health of our river systems," he said. National rankings

The League of Conservation Voters National Environmental Scorecard gave Baird a 94 percent ranking based on his House floor votes on 18 bills of interest to conservationists in the 2004-05 session. Baird's votes on 17 of those bills were rated environmentally friendly.

But Tiernan Sittenfeld, the league's legislative director, said her organization strongly opposes the salvage logging bill and urged Baird not to sign on as a sponsor.

The Washington, D.C.-based American Lands Alliance, which issues its own congressional rankings based only on votes on forest-related bills, gives Baird a much lower grade. In 2005, the alliance gave Baird a 70 percent ranking, based on his votes on a range of forest management, public lands and endangered species bills. Baird's lifetime ranking with the alliance is 58 percent.

"Baird's sponsorship of the Walden logging bill contradicts his previous record of protecting roadless areas, blocking the Bush administration from dismantling environmental and wildlife protections, and limiting taxpayer losses resulting from logging," said Randi Spivak, the alliance's executive director.

Susan Jane Brown, former executive director of the Gifford Pinchot Task Force and now a clinical professor of law at Northwestern School of Law in Portland, said she was "dismayed" but not entirely surprised by Baird's recent actions.

"There is quite a lot of talk about running a spoiler in the primary," Brown said. "I think people are so upset they would actually work on his challenger's campaign, regardless of who it is."

Brown said Baird never endorsed the collaborative approach to thinning sales on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest that brought timber industry representatives and environmentalists together last year as the Pinchot Partnership.

"I worked closely with Baird's office to get him to become more of an advocate for thinning sales" and other noncontroversial forest projects, she said. "What we were trying to get him to do was to take the old growth forests off the table and concentrate on forest health issues. I couldn't get him to come to that point. It makes no sense now to see him to be the lead sponsor of a post-fire logging bill that is not even an issue in his district. It's really bizarre."

Baird vehemently disputed the assertion. He said he has supported collaborative forest projects in Southwest Washington from the beginning and noted that environmentalists opposed the Safe and Secure Schools Act, which has funded many of those projects.

Platt said that although national conservation groups opposed the bill to fund forest projects that help rural communities, her task force supported it.

"I think Baird's claim is pretty hollow," Platt said. "He has not done a single thing to support the partnership."

Bob Gunther, the owner of a small sawmill in Chehalis and a member of the Pinchot Partnership board, said Baird and U.S. Sen. Patty Murray spearheaded efforts in the late 1990s to stop a land exchange that would have transferred an area known as Watch Mountain on the Gifford Pinchot forest to Plum Creek Timber Co.

Gunther said Baird has supported the partnership's effort to make some timber from the national forests available to local mills.

Some members of the partnership board don't support the salvage logging bill, he said, "but we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water. We don't want to do anything that would cause us to lose an ally in Congress."

One question that puzzles conservationists is why Baird is taking a political risk for a bill that would do little to help his district. The wet west-side forests of Southwest Washington rarely experience the kinds of wildfires that result in large salvage operations.

But Baird said major stand-replacing fires, like the Yacolt Burn a century ago, do occur here, as do windstorms that knock down trees. And he said the timber industry remains an important part of the economy of Southwest Washington.

"The Third Congressional District is one of the 10 most heavily forested districts in the nation," he said. "Thousands of family-wage jobs in the district are related to the timber industry. I think economic considerations are valid and important. I don't think there's anything wrong with saying the jobs of people in my district depend on timber."

Kathie Durbin
Baird Provokes Logging Opponents
The Columbian, March 5, 2006

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