View from the fray


It’s a classic tactic: Turn up the heat slowly on logging in national forests, and maybe no one will really notice except those already-wacko, tree-sitting nuts.

Let’s assume that, given the impending weirdness with Iraq, we haven’t been paying much attention to the other pursuits of George W. Bush, president and CEO of USofA Corp., such as his plans for Healthy Forests.

One starting point in the most recent logging debate dates back to last summer’s Squires Peak fire near Medford, Ore. There, the feds had “thinned” 400 acres, but environmental delays caused them to leave 80 acres “unthinned.” It seemed that a pesky 1970 National Environmental Policy Act required the formation of some time-consuming environmental impact statements before action could proceed. Handily, flames engulfed those 80 acres. The fire spread to 2,800 more acres, and the fire-fighting efforts ran around $2.2 million.

What a royal freakin’ hassle it is pandering to the demands of the Greenies when the timber industry donates far more money to my campaign, Bush must have thought to himself. He asked for the advice of his much-trusted crony, Mark Rey, the undersecretary of agriculture in charge of the U.S. Forest Service. Rey’s resume includes a long stint as one of the American Forest and Paper Association’s most powerful lobbyists.

How about introducing some nice new legislation, dubbed “Healthy Forests,” that would streamline the restrictive red tape that slowed hacking in old-growth forests? This they did, but alas, the Democrats and Republicans locked horns on the proposed legislation, and nothing came of it.

Then Team Bush had a wonderful, awful idea: Why don’t we turn this idea into some kind of “emergency response” to the “catastrophic fires that burned 7 million acres” last summer? How can anyone in their right mind fight looser environmental standards on thinning national forests when the Safety and Good of the People is on the line?

That’s how you end up with 10 “pilot projects”—including the clean-up of thousands of acres along the Rogue River in southwestern Oregon, as well as areas in the Mendocino and Eldorado national forests in California. Some environmental groups are OK with the projects, which they consider innocuous. Trim some branches here. Clear some brush there.

Others are frightened that this whole start-small scenario could open the floodgates for bigger, more contentious projects. Branch trimming is expensive … so, you might want to sell a few larger, older, valuable trees to help pay for the efforts.

Mike Dombeck, U.S. Forest Service chief under President Bill Clinton, told reporter Andy Ryan of the Seattle Weekly that it’s clear the Bush administration has “a pro-business, anti-environment point of view, from the chief executive on down.”

“Every acre of old-growth forest we lose is one that we’re not going to see again for several generations,” he said. “The question is, is this worth it over the long haul, when we look at forests not in election cycles but in decades and even centuries? I just think we’re stepping back to the 1970s.”

Gosh, you’d think the stockholders (read: taxpayers) of USofA Corp. would feel a bit ripped off. Or maybe not.