Keep Bush Out Of The Forests
Los Angeles Times - 12/1/2002
What is it that the vast majority of Americans want but aren't getting? What
is it that Democrats stand for but are willing to fight for only fitfully?
What is it that Republicans claim they favor but really don't? Call it
common sense. Or, more grandly, our future.
Either way, it's time to say "enough" to the Bush administration's baloney
about restoring balance to the management of our public lands and our
environment. Restoration? Let's quickly restore some fairness and foresight
before it's too you-know-what.
Last week's decision by George W. Bush to open our national forests to more
quick-profit exploitation by lumbermen, oilmen and barons of industrialized
recreation is a shocking step backward to the profligate ways of the 19th
century. No, it's worse than that. In the 19th century Americans at least
had Teddy Roosevelt to raise their awareness of nature's fragile treasures.
To do worse by Roosevelt now in the 21st century is an affront. The eye of
history will record it as a scandal. It's a body blow to our shared wild
lands, our wildlife and what remains of our heritage of nature. Enough.
No matter how you want to read the elections just concluded, there was no
mandate, or even the hint of one, for this kind of return-to-pillage across
192 million acres that Americans hold in communal trust. A postelection
CBS/New York Times poll found that voters, by a margin of 2 to 1, still
believe that even in wartime, environmental protection is more important
than oil development, let alone stepped-up clear-cutting of forests.
Yet a day after that poll was published, in an announcement timed to land
when families were preoccupied with the Thanksgiving holiday, this
president, who promised to be president for us all, opened our 155 national
forests and 20 national grasslands to industry management. Instead of having
a national policy for protecting wildlife and scenic values, instead of
giving the health of the environment a legal edge over exploitation for
profit, the decisions for use of our forest and grasslands will be handed
over to foresters at each site.
No, not to independent-minded forestry professionals. These forest managers
are political appointees who answer up a military-style chain of command to
the administration's chief environmental hatchet man, Mark Rey, a career
lobbyist and mouthpiece for the timber industry who now sits as
undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture.
This is how the new forest management will work: From the mouth of logging
companies to Rey's ear down to his underlings, who will march in step or get
stepped on, hut, hut. The administration calls it public involvement.
In some quarters, this decision is being cast as the Bush administration
merely undoing the extremist work of the Clinton administration. But that's
far from the real story. In truth, Bill Clinton was anything but an
extremist on forestry. As on many issues, he was a eager compromiser. The
timber industry got what it could from him, and now has made its grab for
all the rest.
A logging industry spokesman was quoted as saying that the new system would
merely restore "common sense ... and I don't think it will necessarily mean
more tree removal." But if you have covered the timber wars as I have, you'd
know different: If the loggers were handed a policy that didn't allow them
to "remove" more trees and fast, they'd be screaming mad.
In this case, they're cheering. You figure it.
The administration says its new rules, which take effect in 90 days, will
cut the time it takes to devise management plans for individual forests from
six years to two. But wait, folks. What's the hurry? Aren't forests supposed
to be forever? These management plans will guide decisions for the next
decade and a half. The administration says the public needn't worry, even
though the new rules no longer require protection of troubled fish and
wildlife. Imagine. As for assessing the environmental consequences of forest
uses, Rey's troopers will now have the path clear to do it in shorthand.
Common sense? Don't believe it. I've spent hours flying over our public
forests in survey planes. Yes, sometimes clear-cuts mimic the fires of
nature, and landscapes re-bloom quickly. But there are huge swaths of our
public lands ruined for short-term gain: great hillsides now barren because
seedlings won't grow in the hot sun of our changing climate, vast mountain
slopes stripped by landslides when trees are cut and nothing is left to hold
back erosion, webs of streams and rivers choked with debris and rendered
lifeless by mud, wildlife habitat chopped into incoherent pieces.
That's what forestry regulations are supposed to regulate: the good from the
bad. This remaining slice of our shared lands should serve more than logging
companies trying to drive up their quarterly stock prices.
Balance? Try this experiment in resource management. Take a sheet of paper
and call it your forest. Tear it in two, saving half and using the other
half. A balanced approach, you see. Then, take the preserved half and apply
the same rules by tearing it in two again. Carry on for a while and you'll
see that what you end up with is a pretty tiny scrap of paper. There comes a
time to say "enough."
Dennis W. Schvejda, Conservation Director
NJ Chapter Sierra Club
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