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Bush’s War on the National Forests

Hurt not the earth, neither the sea nor the trees. The revelation of St. John the Divine

Once again the Bush administration has demonstrated creativity in dealing with problems caused by the environment. Trees are one problem and roads are a solution. Each has been addressed within the last two months. A part of the Healthy Forest initiative addresses the tree problem. The way it works is this.

Lumber companies cut down lots of old growth trees. Once they are gone there are fewer trees and the ones left are healthier. Pursuant to a new policy described on May 31, 2003, environmental studies before logging or burning trees will no longer be required. Consultations about the effects of those activities on endangered species will no longer be required if Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management biologists determine endangered species will probably not be harmed. Cutting and burning excess trees on up to 190 million acres of federal land can take place without environmental studies. Trees can be cut from up to 1,000 acres without environmental studies and controlled burns can be used on up to 4,500 acres.

Mark Rey, Agriculture Department Undersecretary in charge of the Forest Service and a lobbyist for the timber industry in a former life, explained the 1,000 acre rule: “It’s 1000 acres of forest that is unlikely to be consumed by catastrophic fire once we get it done.” Congressman Nick Rahall, of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the House Resources Committee sees it somewhat differently. He says: “Every so-called ‘common sense’ effort by the administration to restore forest health is really an effort to expedite logging on our public lands with little citizen oversight and no environmental analysis.”

In June the administration announced a proposal that will permit the building of more roads in formerly roadless areas. It proposes to open up large areas to recreation that were blocked by rules imposed by Bill Clinton in January 2001 which banned development on one third of all national forest land. The rules banned logging, construction of permanent roads and development on 58.5 million acres of national forest land. The proposed rule changes would exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the roadless area conservation rule opening up 300,000 acres to logging and the administration is seeking public comment on whether or not Alaska’s Chugach National Forest should be exempted from the rule thus opening up another 150,000 acres. The administration also plans to propose letting governors seek exemption within their states to the roadless rules.

For an explanation of this new approach we turn again to Mark Rey who explains: “What I would say is we are working out the path we will take in protecting the value of the roadless rule. We are going to construct a rule that has broad support.”

Some may wonder about the backgrounds of the people are who are giving birth to these new rules. The Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton favored drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and prior to her appointment was quoted in an article in the L.A. Times saying: “We might even go so far as to recognize a homesteading right to pollute or make noise in an area.” As Colorado’s Attorney General, she implemented a ‘self-auditing’ procedure that allowed polluters to evade environmental fines. As Interior Secretary she had no trouble finding like-minded people to work with her.

Her deputy and second in command is J. Stephen Griles. His environmental sensitivity was developed under James Watt, Ronald Reagan’s Interior Secretary. As a lobbyist he represented Occidental Petroleum, National Mining Association and Shell Oil. On May 30, 2003, Bill Moyers examined the conflicts of interest that follow Mr. Griles around. Although he promised to recuse himself from any Interior Department business involving former clients, he has continued to meet with energy industry people who were once his clients.

James Cason, Associate Deputy Secretary is third in command. He was the nominee for Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment under George I. If confirmed, he would have been responsible for the National Forest Service and the Soil Conservation Service. He made history by what he didn’t do. Though approved in committee he failed to win confirmation in the full senate and asked to have his name withdrawn. That was reportedly the first time a nominee for Assistant Secretary got out of committee but didn’t get confirmed. The Chief of the U.S. Forest Service during the Reagan years, R. Max Peterson said: “Mr. Cason’s decisions at the Department of the Interior were uniformly bad when measured against any reasonable standard of public interest and fairness to the public which owns the public lands.”

Camden Toohey, Special Assistant for Alaska, is in charge of 270 million acres of Interior lands in that state. He is the former Executive Director of Arctic Power which lobbies on behalf of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Bennett Raley is Assistant Secretary for Water and Science. He is in charge of allocating water to balance the needs of people and wildlife. He opposes the Clean Water Act. The list of appointees goes on but space does not.

On July 2, 2003, Earthjustice Legislative Director, Marty Hayden participated in a 21 chain saw salute to the Bush administration and corporate timber interests. He said that the Bush administration has adopted a policy of “Leave no tree behind.” That says a lot more about the administration policy than any of Mark Rey’s explanations.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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