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   Bush Administration Continues to Abandon Environmental Safeguards in Our National Forests

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Bush Administration Continues to Abandon Environmental Safeguards in Our National Forests

By Thomas Michael Power

The Bush administration has proposed to completely abandon doing environmental impact analysis of these National Forest management blueprints and get rid of citizen’s rights to appeal these blueprints.
The Bush administration is continuing what critics see as a ruthless attack on a quarter of a century of US environmental policy, much of it originally initiated by previous Republican administrations.

This time, America’s National Forests are seen as the target. With timber industry officials in charge of the forests, the Bush administration is viewed as wanting to go back to the “good old days” when the forests were used almost exclusively as warehouses of cheap commercial lumber.

During the last 15 years, as the National Forests have been managed for the full range of forest values they produce—including clean water, wildlife, fisheries, recreation, open space and scenic beauty—commercial timber harvests have declined dramatically. During this time America was still able to sustain a housing construction boom that allowed more Americans to own their own homes, largely due to reduced exports of unprocessed logs and increased efficiency and utilization in the mills.

The timber industry, however, sees the National Forests as a source for cheap, subsidized raw materials. Under existing laws, each National Forest must prepare a plan to guide how the forested landscape will be managed over the next decade or two. This complicated planning process was accomplished back in the 1980s. It uses computer models that only a handful of people have understood. Those computer models were subtly rigged to assure ongoing, high levels of commercial logging. Because those levels of logging could not be sustained without violating national environmental laws, federal courts systematically forced reductions in logging levels.

Now the Bush Administration wants to re-live those days of aggressive commercial logging and legal conflict. It has proposed to completely abandon doing environmental impact analysis of these National Forest management blueprints and get rid of citizen’s rights to appeal these blueprints. In addition, it would no longer seek independent, scientific review of its own internal scientific claims and the National Forests no longer would have to be managed to protect and maintain healthy forest ecosystems. In short, the timber industry executives running the Forest Service seek to keep the public in the dark as to the environmental consequences of their overall management decisions and render the public helpless to do anything about the environmentally dangerous decisions they may make.

Two Justifications Offered for Gutting Forest Protections
The Bush Administration has offered two justifications for this gutting of a scientific and environmentally sensitive forest planning process. The first is the need to speed up the planning process. The second is the desire to involve more of the public in the National Forest Planning process. Both are attractive goals that can be pursued without abandoning environmental reviews and safeguards.

Remember that it was the Forest Service that turned the planning process into an arcane and complicated process that it could easily manipulate. It was not the Forest Service’s concern with healthy forests, wildlife, fisheries, recreation, and scenic beauty that slowed the process down and discouraged people from participating.

Involving the public from the very beginning of the planning process, before there is an agency agenda that is going to be pursued regardless of public attitudes, is an excellent idea. If honestly and effectively pursued, that approach is likely to accelerate the whole planning process. But such an approach does not require that environmental impacts not be analyzed or that Forest Service decision-makers remain scientifically ignorant. It does not require that the commitment to protecting forest health and ecosystem integrity be abandoned or that citizens be forbidden from appealing bad government decisions.

The new proposed rules that would govern planning on our National Forests are nothing but a sweet-sounding cover for a timber industry attempt to take back control of public forests that were never theirs, but which industry has always coveted. These forests belong to the American people and should be primarily managed for the noncommercial values they provide to us day in and day out. We need no return to the “glory days” of public lands ravaged by monstrous clearcuts, trout streams silted up by erosion from logging road and the extinction of the native wildlife that are our historical and cultural legacies.


Thomas Michael Power is professor and chairman of the Economics Department at The University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. He may be contacted at (406) 243-4586 or by email using tom.power@mso.umt.edu


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This story was published on January 8, 2003.
  
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