Funds cut to preserve Cascades forest land
Washington State - Efforts to preserve huge swaths of Cascades forest were dealt a setback today by funding cuts in President Bush's proposed 2004 budget, conservation groups said.
Fred Munson, spokesman for the Cascades Conservation Partnership, said Monday that the president's budget eliminates money for land purchases to the north and south of Interstate 90 through the Cascades. Those purchases are part of a three-year campaign to protect over 75,000 acres of privately owned forests that link Mount Rainier National Park to the south with the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area to the north.
``That particular project has been zeroed out,'' Munson said of the president's budget. ``The reality is, he's totally breaking his promise to fully fund land acquisition.''
The Cascades purchases, most of them from the Plum Creek Timber Co., were engineered by a bipartisan effort of the state's congressional delegation plus Plum Creek, the U.S. Forest Service, 39 outdoor and conservation groups and many private donors. The effort is administered by the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, of which Munson is deputy director.
Plum Creek's lands are sprinkled across the mountains in a checkerboard pattern, a legacy of congressional land grants to railroads in the 1800s.
Money for purchases was to come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and private donations. Once purchased, the land would be turned over to the Forest Service for inclusion in the Wenatchee National Forest.
Munson said the administration's turnaround is particularly dismaying because the coalition has been hugely popular, with a broad base of support across the political spectrum.
``Slade Gorton was one of our biggest supporters,'' he said of the former Republican U.S. senator. ``It should be the kind of thing the administration could get behind. The fact that they are cutting all of that is shocking.''
Gorton himself was not shocked. Reached at his office in the Preston Gates & Ellis law firm in Seattle on Monday, Gorton said President Bush probably has to cut a lot of programs, given the pressures of the economy and demands for funding. And funding in previous years required heavy lobbying in Congress.
``When I was in the Senate, I worked very hard for appropriations for it,'' Gorton said. ``Because of my position, I was able to do it.''
Congress may yet come to the rescue and restore money to the program, but Munson said that is a tall order and time is short.
``Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn is not on the Appropriations Committee, but she is a rising star in the House,'' Munson said. ``She should be able to help us. It's unfortunate that so far it hasn't worked.''
Jen Burrita, an aide to Dunn, said Dunn has been in meetings in this area. She had not seen the president's budget proposal and could not comment on it.
But Sen. Patty Murray's office was critical of the president's proposal. Spokesman Todd Webster said Murray was ``very disturbed'' that funding for land acquisition was cut.
``It's disappointing,'' Webster said. ``This had been a bipartisan effort for several years. Sen. Murray played a key role in securing the funding. It's disappointing that this administration doesn't recognize the value of these areas.''
Webster added that Murray will continue to work for funding in this Congress, but he said the budget does reflect the president's priorities and those of the Republican leadership in Congress.
Munson is worried about the fate of the ``option lands,'' which are Plum Creek timberlands the coalition has options to buy. There are about $10 million worth of them yet to be purchased for the public. But if funding isn't provided, the options will run out this year and the forests will be logged.
Jon Savelle can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4231.
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