Here come the stumps

We human beings suffer from an astonishing lack of ability to consider the long-term consequences of our actions.

This must be why we have virtually ruined the world’s natural environment, despite its exceptional ability to nourish and protect us. It does not take E.O. Wilson to recognize that, thanks to human actions, half of the great tropical forests have been cleared forever, global warming threatens to alter the atmosphere permanently, and species of plants and animals are disappearing 100 times faster than before man’s arrival on Earth.

Instead of rising to the challenge that these truths suggest are imperative, human beings have tended to do the opposite, with America leading the pack. The most recent example: President Bush’s deplorable Thanksgiving Day massacre of the National Forest Management Act that had helped to protect our nation’s 192 million acres of national forest from logging, drilling and mining.

We don’t know if it was overconfidence, stupidity or arrogance (maybe all of the above?) that caused his administration to eviscerate the crucial management plan as we sat around dining-room tables eating turkey and cranberry sauce with our families. We do know that the action will have a deplorable outcome.

Written in 1976 by the Carter administration (and amended more recently by Clinton’s), the act directed the Forest Service to develop a management plan for each of the nation’s 155 forests and required that agency to conduct environmental-impact reports and hold public hearings to amend or revise the national plan. Generally, the idea was to protect what was left of the forest and endangered species living therein.

But now the act will be gutted. According to the administration, the purpose of the new rule is “to better harmonize the environmental, social and economic benefits of the forests” by offering more flexibility to individual forest managers to designate areas for future logging, drilling and mining without studying the effects on wildlife, watersheds and public recreation. It’s no surprise that loggers and the timber industry vigorously support the new plan; it gives them lease to do as they please with the forest while lifting the fear of lawsuits filed by environmentalists.

Environmentalists and most Democrats in Congress are aghast at the scope of the Thanksgiving Day massacre, but that doesn’t mean they have the ability, or votes, to stop it. After the last election, they don’t.

Our national forests are home to a sweeping range of plant and animal species, many of which exist in a complex web of survival. Our job in the 21st century should be to protect what remains. It’s a colossal travesty that the Bush administration seems set on willfully ignoring the long-term consequences and turning our national forests into criss-cross patterns of logging roads and clear-cut trails.