Bush likes forest industry, but not the trees

Wednesday, June 16, 2004
Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

The president's fondness for the timber industry is well documented. Even his forest fire prevention bill -- the so-called Healthy Forests Initiative -- is tilted toward timber industry interests.

But now the Bush administration is poised to issue its radical rewrite of the National Forest Management Act regulations, which have protected our national forests, including the Olympic and Wenatchee forests in Washington, for decades.

A key amendment scheduled for a vote today in the House, co-led by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Tacoma, can stop these regulations in their tracks. We better hope it does, because the latest draft of President Bush's scheme is frightening.

Protections against excessive logging are severely weakened. So, too, are protections for imperiled wildlife. Gone are key opportunities for the public to weigh in effectively on forest management decisions. What remains is essentially a gift guaranteed to make Bush's political donors in the timber industry happy.

Congress passed the National Forest Management Act in 1976 specifically to reform a U.S. Forest Service that was acting as a taxpayer-funded subsidiary of the timber industry. Since then, the Forest Service has been required to manage national forests not as the private treasure trove of timber barons but as an irreplaceable public resource. As a result, forest management has improved dramatically in recent decades.

But without even a shameful blush, Bush appointees at the Department of Agriculture turned their back on this progress. They junked the 1982 regulations approved by the Reagan administration, and they threw out revised rules developed in 2000 by an independent committee of scientists. In their place, they crafted regulations designed by and for the timber industry, regulations that turn a blind eye to objective science. Indeed, upon seeing a draft of the Bush plan, two distinguished members of the 2000 Committee of Scientists noted with disgust that it was "antithetical to a science-based approach to national forest planning."

So where we once had forest-planning regulations that protected all 155 national forests, we are now looking at rules that protect primarily the timber industry.

We shouldn't be surprised. This was all preordained when Bush named former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey to be undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and environment, the post charged with overseeing the U.S. Forest Service. Around Washington, everyone knew just what this meant: The fox was about to get free run of the chicken coop. Timber interests jumped for joy -- and began to sharpen their chain saws.

And with good reason.

The Bush plan for managing the nation's forest would eliminate the requirement that national forests be managed so that viable populations of forest wildlife are maintained. They would excuse the Forest Service from obeying important environmental laws that every other federal agency is required to follow. And they would severely limit public involvement and scientific review in the forest planning process.

Left unburdened by any serious obligation to the environment or the general public, many in the Forest Service would happily return us to the good old days when unsustainable logging was the dominant use of our nation's forests.

Fortunately, Washington state has leaders who see both the forest and the trees. Dicks is partnering with Tom Udall, D-N.M., to offer an amendment to block implementation of the president's shortsighted and ill-advised regulations. It can be hoped that the rest of the Washington delegation and Congress will join in to put a stop to the administration's forest management rollbacks before they do any lasting harm.

© 1998-2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Informant: Teresa Binstock


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