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Going Up In Smoke! The Debate Remains Hot!
President Proposes New Forest Policy

By Ed Brindley Jr.
Date Posted: 10/1/2002

Recently President Bush proposed his Health Forests Initiative to combat the worsening conditions in public forests. The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan had failed to live up to its promises.

Although the plan has successfully protected old growth trees, it has failed to deliver on other key promises, mainly the continuation of a sustainable forest economy and improving forest health conditions. The U.S. Forest Service indicates that litigation and procedural delays have prevented implementation of the plan as intended. Currently, 190 million acres of public land are at increased risk of catastrophic wildfires.

The media has given intensive coverage to this year’s wildfires. Massive buildup of brush and undergrowth has created ideal conditions for catastrophic crown fires. As conditions worsen, fires burn with greater speed and intensity.

President Bush’s plan tackles bureaucratic hurdles by reducing the number of overlapping environmental reviews, removes needless administrative obstacles and provides authority to allow many timber projects to proceed without delay. His plan calls for the establishment of long-term, stewardship contracts with the private sector. These would allow contractors to keep wood products in exchange for the service of thinning trees and brush and removing dead wood.

The heart of the Bush plan is to actively manage and reduce the fuel load. Using a variety of methods from thinning to prescribed burns, the Bushs plan would treat high danger areas first. Soliciting more local involvement and active management and more timely decision-making by the federal government are parts of his plan.

The preservationist groups developed a seven-part plan that focuses on protecting areas around homes and communities while leaving the back country forests alone. The eco-plan targets Community Protection Zones for the first 500 yards out from buildings. The core of their proposal remains the same — stop all commercial logging. Point six of their plan is "Protect our ancient and wild forest from logging and logging roads."

They believe that the Forest Service should continue spending huge amounts of money fighting fires but must not attempt to cover its cost by allowing commercial timber sales on national forests. Their proposal makes no sense. Today, through poor management and continued regulatory/litigation roadblocks, America’s public forests endanger private land while providing very little commercial timber. This will only get worse if the preservationists have their way.

Preservationists continue to beat the same old drum. They are calling for more zero cut policies while camouflaging it in new terms. They believe that anything that happens naturally, including fire, is OK just as long as man leaves the forests alone.

Preservationists groups will allow thinning but not logging. But what is logging versus thinning? Everybody has their own idea what the definitions should be. Preservationists groups tend to view commercial logging as harvesting any tree over 12 inches in diameter. Forest managers, scientists and the timber industry want to apply less arbitrary standards and allow more local management.

The approach encouraged by preservationists may spare some homes and communities, but it largely leaves the cause of the problem untreated. Federal land managers must comply with thousands of pages of laws, regulations and administrative rules before implementing thinning and other fuels reduction projects on the ground.

The President is encouraging Congress to pass a forest health bill similar to his proposal. Preservationist groups are already mounting a negative public relations campaign. They are attempting to divert criticism and characterize Bush’s plan as an assalt on the environment. The industry must stand together and back the President’s plan. Although it could be better, at least it takes steps in the right direction. Call your Congressional representatives and encourage them to protect the future of our national forests by passing real forest health reform.

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