WASHINGTON — Timber industry groups hope Mark Rey will champion their causes, since he once worked for them. But environmentalists see him more as Darth Vader.
“There is nobody who has been more intimately involved in the timber industry’s various efforts in the last 20 years to promote logging in the national forest than Mark Rey,” said Mike Anderson, senior research analyst with The Wilderness Society.
Rey’s supporters say environmentalists are being unfair – that he is a man who does compromise and that he should be listened to because of his expertise.
If confirmed by the Senate, Rey will become the Agriculture Department’s undersecretary in charge of the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service – responsible for 192 million acres of public lands, over 46,000 employees and a $6.4 billion budget.
Rey would come to the job as conservationists raise flags about Bush’s environmental decisions. Many have protested as the administration works to revamp a Clinton-era ban on logging and road-building on a third of the national forests – a policy Rey regularly criticized as a sweeping, misguided national initiative.
Some environmentalists are just as concerned about administration efforts to revise rules regarding forest management, unveiled last year, that give increased importance to the ecological values of national forests, among other changes. Rey also has complaints about that Clinton-era policy, but he declined
Rey, 48, was born in suburban, middle-class Canton, Ohio. His parents, not exactly the outdoor types, scratched their heads when he began studying forestry in college. But Rey’s credentials as an Eagle Scout explained his interest in the trees.
He earned degrees in wildlife management and forestry, and went on to get a masters of science in natural resources policy and administration in 1975 from the University of Michigan.
Rey has worked for the National Forest Products Association, American Forest Resources Alliance and American Forest & Paper Association, all timber industry groups. In 1995, he took a job working for Senate Republicans as the top aide to the Energy and Natural Resources’ forests subcommittee.
But his positions — as policy analyst, strategist, lobbyist and eventually public servant – have pitted him against environmentalists.
And his work for the timber industry reportedly caught the attention of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who had Rey’s name in his Montana cabin. It was found along with other Northwest timber industry leaders, whom Kaczynski had targeted.
Environmentalists such as Mike Anderson worry that Rey will try to chip away at Clinton legacies, such as the Northwest Forest Plan, a 1993 management plan adopted after a federal judge shut down logging in the region to protect the endangered spotted owl.
Though Anderson has a list of grievances with Rey, he highlights the timber salvage rider, a piece of legislation that temporarily suspended environmental laws to expedite the sale of timber killed by forest fires and insects on national forests around the country.
The rider ushered in a revival of old-growth timber sales in the Northwest that had been withdrawn for environmental concerns.
While Rey s– for writing it, the former general counsel for oversight and investigations at the House Resources Committee points out that many others had a hand in it.
“You find this mythical notion that has been manufactured by environmentalist opponents in order to create a target. Mark, like others at times, has become that target,” said Duane Gibson, now the staff director of the House Transportation highways and transit subcommittee.
The forest products industry, though encouraged by the nomination, insists it still has to win its cases on the merits with Rey.
“We don’t feel he approaches our issues with hostility, as the Clinton administration did,” said Michael Klein, spokesman for American Forest & Paper Association. On some issues, Rey is part of compromises. This included a bill last year to provide communities near federal forests the option to break a historic link between timber harvest and funding schools and roads.
But the bill also reconnected communities to the land by offering greater flexibility in how they spend the money — a key element of Western Republican support.
“Though we had profound differences, we were able to work out some pretty constructive approaches,” said Chris Wood, a top Forest Service aide during the Clinton administration.
“He’s not Darth Vader. He’s maybe Darth Vader Lite,” Wood added.
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, believes much of the resistance from environmental groups is “out of respect” for Rey. He considers him “one of the most authoritative people on forest management issues of anyone in Congress.”
“He is someone to be reckoned with,” the senator said.