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New York Times Editorial: "Trouble in the Forests" PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Sunday, 02 January 2005 03:29

New York Times Editorial: "Trouble in the Forests"
January 1, 2005 (http://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html)
 
The Bush administration is proceeding briskly with its
demolition job on the environmental regulations it
inherited from previous administrations, especially the
rules protecting the national forests against commercial
exploitation.

Over the last four years, the Forest Service has weakened
agreements aimed at preserving old-growth trees and
wildlife in the Pacific Northwest and in the Sierra Nevada.
It persuaded Congress to adopt its misnamed "Healthy
Forests" initiative that helps timber companies as much as
it helps communities at risk from forest fire. It threatens
to overturn President Bill Clinton's popular roadless rule
protecting the most remote areas of the forests, and it has
already removed those protections from the Tongass National
Forest in Alaska. Then last week, just before Christmas -
the administration's preferred time for unveiling bad news
- it announced a radical overhaul of the rules governing
the management of the nation's 155 national forests.

The ostensible purpose of the change is to streamline a
cumbersome management process and give individual forest
managers more flexibility to respond to threats like
wildfires and the increasing use of the forests by off-road
vehicles. But the new rules would also eliminate vital
environmental reviews, as mandated by the National
Environmental Policy Act of 1969, jettison wildlife
protections that date to President Ronald Reagan, restrict
public input, and replace detailed regulations, like those
limiting clearcuts and protecting streams, with vague
"results-based" goals. These are unacceptably high costs to
pay for regulatory efficiency.

More broadly, the whole idea of giving local managers more
flexibility defies history, however reasonable it appears
on the surface. The main reason Congress enacted the
National Forest Management Act in 1976 was that the public
had lost confidence in the Forest Service, not only local
foresters but also their bosses in Washington, who seemed
mainly interested in harvesting timber no matter what the
cost to the forest's ecological health.

There are, of course, forest mangers who act responsibly.
And the administration promises that forest plans will be
regularly audited under an "environmental management
system" it has borrowed from private industry. But it is
not clear who will be conducting these audits (indeed, it's
entirely possible the timber industry could end up
monitoring itself). Nor, given the vagueness of the new
guidelines, are there any longer clear standards against
which foresters and their plans can be measured.

This is a recipe for trouble. Forest supervisors have
always been subject to fierce pressures from timber
companies and the communities that depend upon them for
jobs. Unless the law unambiguously requires them to protect
nature - giving them legal cover to resist industry
pressures - we could see a return to the days when what
counted on a r

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 January 2005 03:29
 

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