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   Bush's "Healthy Forests Initiative" Is Anything But

OP-ED:

Bush’s ‘Healthy Forests Initiative’ Is Anything But

by Matthew Koehler

During the 2000 presidential campaign, the Bush campaign received millions of dollars in contributions from the logging industry. It was obviously money well spent, since—just like their energy plan—the Bush Administration's recently unveiled "Healthy Forests Initiative" was written to benefit their friends in the resource extractive industries.

The Bush Administration's sugar-coating and spin-doctoring aside, their proposal to suspend America's environmental laws and eliminate meaningful public participation should be viewed as nothing less than a transparent attempt to increase commercial logging in our national forests - their stated goal since day one.

In fact, Bush's initiative is similar to the 1995 logging-without-laws “Salvage Rider,” which the Washington Post called "arguably the worst piece of public lands legislation ever." Under the Salvage Rider—with environmental laws suspended and public participation effectively eliminated—enough trees were cut to fill log trucks lined up for over 6,800 miles.

While Bush claims that eliminating America's environmental laws and increasing commercial logging will return "responsible" forest management to national forests, the facts don't back him up.

We hear repeatedly that fuel-reduction projects are stalled by appeals and lawsuits; however, the General Accounting Office investigated all Forest Service fuel-reduction projects for fiscal year 2001 and found that of the 1,671 projects, only 1% had been appealed and none had been litigated.

Furthermore, science has been telling us for years that commercial logging—because it targets the large, fire-resistant trees—has increased fire risk and severity. Even the National Fire Plan warns that the Forest Service's wildland fire policy "should not rely on commercial logging or new road building to reduce fire risks" because "the removal of large, merchantable trees from forests does not reduce fire risk and may, in fact, increase such risk."

While the environmental community is rightfully opposed to the "logging without laws" approach favored by the Bush Administration, we continue to support a common sense, scientifically based approach to protect communities from fire and restore the ecological integrity of America's national forests.

Forest Service experts have found that a home's ability to survive a fire depends on its condition and surroundings within 200 feet. In short, experts tell us that wildfire protection begins at home, not with more commercial logging.

When it comes to restoring our national forests, we support putting local people to work undoing the damage caused by a century of logging, roadbuilding, grazing, fire suppression, and more recently, ATV use.

In fact, for nearly two years the environmental community has worked together with forest practitioners and community forestry groups to draft a set of Restoration Principles to promote ecological forest restoration and guide the implementation of sound restoration policies and projects on national forests.

As equal owners of America's national forests, how they are managed is up to us. Ask yourself, should we suspend our environmental laws and limit public participation to increase commercial logging? Or should we move forward with a common-sense approach that will protect communities and put local people to work restoring our national forests?


Mr. Koehler works with the Native Forest Network, P.O. Box 8251, Missoula, MT 59087; (406) 542-7343.


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This story was published on October 2, 2002.
  
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