Forests under fire
The rules are important for all Americans, but especially for those like us who live near large swatches of publicly owned forest land, such as the Plumas and Lassen national forests.
The administration was rightly critical of the previous planning system, which was so cumbersome that 15-year plans took five to seven years to complete, making them obsolete right out of the box. The new system streamlines the process, but it also weakens the protections it should be guaranteeing.
Under the new rules, forest supervisors are given much more power over forest management plans, and they no longer will be required to do environmental-impact analyses when they change those plans, reducing the public’s ability to assess potential impacts. At the same time, economic values are to be given just as much weight as ecological ones in the process. The rule that “viable populations” of native species be maintained in the forests has been replaced by a vague stipulation that a certain unspecified level of species “diversity” be maintained. And the rule that the plan must be consistent with good science has been watered down; the new rule asks only that science be considered in developing the plan.
Combine these changes with the Bush administration’s lifting of the Clinton administration’s ban on new roads in the forests, and you have a prescription for logging abuse. Some local managers are good stewards of the land, but remember that the previous conservation rules came into existence because the forests weren’t being protected adequately. We’re back to square one.