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Who's Telling the Truth?
Dr. Ed Brindley explores the issue of whom to believe in the debate over forest health public policy and the bias against the industry in the ''mainstream'' press.

By Dr. Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 6/1/2003

Ok, for the record I am a biased person. As a matter of fact, I have yet to meet a truly unbiased person. I don’t believe such a creature exists. Yet the "mainstream" press continues to tout itself as an unbiased, balanced source of information on environmental issues. I beg to differ.

Just consider this recent headline and lead paragraph to an Associated Press story, the article was titled "New Bill to Allow 1,000 Acre Clear-cuts." Jeff Barnard wrote the article on bipartisan legislation aimed at solving the nation’s forest health crisis. Here’s the lead paragraph, "Republicans on Friday joined the congressional debate over thinning national forests to prevent wildfires with a bill that includes unchecked power for the Bush administration to authorize 1,000-acre clear-cuts in the name of controlling insects."

In the top of the article, the author focuses on key talking points from the leftist preservationist groups. A spokesman for the Sierra Club could have just as well penned this "news" article. There is no mention of bi-partisan support for the bill even though it has 14 Democratic co-sponsors. Although the article contains quotes from all sides, the arrangement and focus of the piece can make a big difference. Yes, the provision to allow clearcuts for studying the effects of various treatments on bugs is a controversial issue. But leading a "news" article with this point gives the wrong impression that the Healthy Forest Restoration Act is primarily about clear-cuts instead of improving forest health. Of course, this is all just a matter of opinion…right?

The article contains no reference to criticisms about environmental groups whose policies and attempts to stall treatment of disease, bug and wildfire prone forests have contributed to the current forest health crisis.

There are two fundamentally different positions when it comes to the current forest health crisis. The liberals and preservationists groups blame commercial logging and poor Forest Service management for the problem. They call for more money to aggressively deal with the situation. Washington Democrat Jay Inslee recently said, "It is not process that is a the heart of the wildfire threat. It is at lack of money, combined with continued drought and a history of poor management."

Green groups claim that commercial interests are trying to use the forest health issue as a smokescreen to revive widespread logging on public forests. Preservationists also claim that the forest health crisis can be dealt with by only treating areas around communities or watersheds.

On the other side of the issue, Republicans and some Democrats point to excessive government bureaucracy and staunch opposition from preservationists groups as a major hurdle to effect forest management. Colorado Republican Scott McInnis said, "The bureaucratic status quo on our federal forests and rangelands is not working. Most reasonable people would agree that it should not take upwards of several years to get a thinning project near a community through the federal maze of analysis, appeals and lawsuits." McInnis called it paralysis by analysis.

From my window, it appears that all sides have some valid points. Treating areas around communities and sensitive watersheds makes sense and should be the top targets. But refusing to go deep into the forests, largely ignores the underlining problem. Scientifically sound methods, such as thinning and prescribed burning, must be used deep in the forests where many of the major wildfires start. More money should be spent on preventing forest health problems. In the long term, more prevention leads to less wildfire and fewer pest outbreaks. One way to put government resources to the best use is to streamline the approval process. People must continue to have a say in the process. But the current bureaucratic process is a nightmare. Droughts have made things worse in recent years, and unless the government takes action to solve the crisis on public land, conditions will only get worse.

It all comes down to whom do you trust? Do you trust local land managers and Forest Service experts or bureaucrats and lobbyists in Washington?

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