House Passes Bush Administration Logging Plan

By J.A. SAVAGE Alternet
Friday May 23, 2003

Log federal forests in order to save them? That’s what the House voted to do Tuesday. Invoking the ghost of George Orwell, the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 encourages federal land managers to “conduct hazardous fuel reduction projects.” In a 256 to 170 tally, the House would allow what environmentalists say will lead to logging 190 million acres the Bush administration claims are “at risk” of forest fire. It also limits citizen participation and authorizes another $125 million in industry subsidies. The Senate plans to take it up in summer. 

“We call it the ‘Healthy-Stealthy’ Act,” explained Andrew George, National Forest Protection Alliance campaign coordinator. “It allows logging in the forest when logging is one of the single greatest causes of fires.” Environmentalists allege it hands prime forests, including ancient trees, to the timber industry and will lead to decimating precious public lands.  

Rep. Scott McInnis’ (R-CO) HR 1904 uses community protection as the act’s raison d’être — stopping fires from burning down homes and structures at the fringes of the forest. Instead of addressing the development/forest interface, the bill “does nothing” to protect communities, according to George. 

Pro-logging forces, like the American Land Rights Association, admit the bill will also allow the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management “discretionary authority to limit [environmental] analysis. . . meaning the agencies would not be required to analyze and describe a number of different alternatives to the preferred course.” The association adds in a letter, “This legislation is crucial for protecting our air, water and wildlife from insect infestations and catastrophic wildfires.” 

The Society of American Foresters, agrees, pointing to “80 years of the accumulation of fuels-dead vegetation and overly dense stands of trees” leading to an “all-time high” potential for fires. 

The “stealthy” part of the act comes from supporters like these who greenwash their intent, say environmentalists. “The greenwashing starts in the bill’s title,” said Matthew Koehler, Native Forest Network campaign coordinator. He said the proposed legislation would implement the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative” launched last summer — following the 2000 wildland fire season — using the “guise of protecting communities while severely curtailing citizen participation.” 

Behind the administration’s urgency is its public complaint that environmentalists delay logging plans.  

In a federal report out May 14, environmentalists were apprised that if delaying logging is their strategy, they are lousy at it. Of the “fuel reduction” plans that environmentalists appealed in the last two years, two-thirds were approved as planned and only 10 percent were reversed. But in so reporting, the investigative arm of Congress, the General Accounting Office (GAO), also noted that if environmentalists’ delay tactics are the reason for stripping out public input in the Healthy Forests Act, then that too is a canard. 

Koehler said the GAO report put the lie to the Bush administration’s claim of “analysis paralysis” in invoking the necessity of the Healthy Forests Act. 

“If the act passes, it would be considered implementation of the administration’s plan,” said Koehler, who characterized the bill as one of several that are “payback” to campaign contributors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the timber industry contributed $4.6 million to politicians last year — a vast majority of which went to Republicans. 

“The Bush administration has been good at greenwashing — good at using people’s fear of fire to limit opposition,” said Koehler. “It has also sold the American public a false bill of ‘analysis paralysis.’ That’s the level they’ll go to to ensure we will see more logging on public forests.”