The remote nation of Nepal has a serious deforestation problem. In Oregon there lives a citizen who raises fast-growing hybrid poplar trees. Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) chairs the Appropriations Committee. The committee earmarked $2.28 million in its fiscal 1986 foreign operations bill to send 2.5 million Oregon poplar tree cuttings to Nepal.
Nothing new there, you say? Happens all the time? Ah, but in this case, Nepal resisted: These poplars might not grow well there. The Agency for International Development also resisted, listening to one of its foresters who argued that the project would be "completely unrealistic, a waste of money" and "an act of extreme folly" because of transport, land availability and refrigeration problems.
Hatfield was determined. "He really believes that this is an important and valid development project," said aide Rick Rolf, adding that Hatfield has never met the nursery owner.
So beginning May 1, the Appropriations Committee began to hold up AID's normally routine requests to reprogram funds from one Asian project to another.
So far, nine projects involving $29 million have been stalled in what an AID source views as a frank effort to encourage the agency to reconsider its position. The projects include an irrigation training program in Indonesia and other proposals in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the source said, while stressing that $200 million for the Philippines had moved speedily through the committee since the hold was instituted.
"The agency has ignored a directive of Congress," said a committee staff aide. "This is the only way to get their attention," said another.
"We often do this to make sure the directives are adhered to," said Rolf. "Hatfield is looking for some resolution of the issue indicating they will put together a project, and then we can move forward."
A feasibility study that AID ordered in January -- but which committee aides said was a stalling tactic -- reported that Nepal does indeed need "a tree such as a poplar" that can be used as fuel, animal feed, brushwood and a soil holder and windbreak. The study, headed by Argonne National Laboratories, said that other varieties of trees also should be explored.
AID Administrator M. Peter McPherson, however, has been persuaded. "The Appropriations Committee directed AID to undertake this project, and as far as I am concerned, Congress has spoken," he said yesterday. "We are going to undertake it. And I don't feel uncomfortable about that, either." He added that the project delays "have not been a major disruption."
McPherson said Hatfield "made it clear he didn't care where the trees come from but is interested in trying out a new approach" to the deforestation problem. "I don't know if the trees will come from Oregon or not, and I don't feel compelled to have them come from Oregon," McPherson said.
Rolf said that is fine with Hatfield. "If the trees come from Oregon, that's terrific. If they don't and it's still appropriate technology, then that's the objective."