The fight over logging old-growth forests is developing into a class struggle between urban and rural cultures, a Washington researcher says.

Paul Sommers, research director of the Northwest Policy Center, University of Washington, spoke last week at a session of the Frank Church Conference on Public Affairs at Boise State University. The talks honor Church, who spent 24 years as a U.S. senator from Idaho.Sommers said class struggles over logging are expanding to other resource battles. In western Oregon and Washington, logging communities are pitted against an urban population trying to protect the last old-growth forests, he said.

Ninety-five percent of the old-growth timber has been cut, he said, and because of that, "the choice is relocating now or relocating later."

Sommers said the class struggle can be avoided by processing timber instead of shipping raw logs out of the country; eliminating unpopular and destructive clearcutting and providing incentives to diversify logging town economies.

Similar economic upheavals have been handled in Europe, he said. In Sweden, 15,000 shipbuilders were retrained after their facility closed.

Retraining can be done in the Pacific Northwest, but it may require more money than the states can provide, he said.

Another speaker, an environmental journalist, said the national forest policies of Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, are "a major engine of destruction."

Catherine Caufield is a San Francisco-based writer who has authored two books on the environment. She said McClure, who is retiring from the Senate at the end of this year after 18 years, is among a group of lawmakers who "have been manipulating this great natural resource on their own."