New Bush administration rules that rewrite long-standing forest-planning policies are a false economy that limit public involvement in the guise of greater management efficiencies...

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New Bush administration rules that rewrite long-standing forest-planning policies are a false economy that limit public involvement in the guise of greater management efficiencies.

Instead, they create administrative opportunities to expedite timber cutting, oil and gas exploration and mining with less challenge or scrutiny.
All of these activities would take place with fewer environmental directives to shape the land and resource management of the nation’s 155 national forests and 20 grasslands.

The changes are an especially bad fit in the Northwest, which spent a decade rebuilding trust and confidence after the spotted-owl wars.

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Our national forests are not tree museums. They are a rich and robust source of natural resources, increasingly valuable watersheds, and they are also welcome and heavily visited havens for hikers, campers and hunters. Forest plans are the heart of the process: They are long-range documents put together using the 1976 National Forest Management Act. They cover everything from timber auctions and grazing rights to recreational planning and how off-road vehicle use is managed.

The new Bush rules scrap environmental-impact statements for the forest plans and substitute an undefined system of outside audits to measure good intentions. Legally enforceable environmental and management regulations are replaced with a performance review and an earnest chat.

Gone, too, are requirements to monitor individual wildlife species whose health and survival are in jeopardy. The old standard of viable populations of fish and wildlife becomes much, much broader, more akin to: “Got critters?”

Scientific review is given short shrift in the new rules, turning the best available science into a concept that can be trumped by resource needs.

Public participation is dramatically rolled back. Access to decision-makers who build these 15-year plans should not be viewed as time-consuming and bothersome, as it clearly is now.

In the future, the public — the owners of the national forests — will be consulted at times and places the new rules leave conveniently vague. All of this is done with an eye toward maximizing bureaucratic discretion.

The entire approach seeks a corporate-style flexibility for the managers, with the public consulted — though not necessarily heeded — on a final project. Taxpayers and interested parties are reduced to a focus group.