Bush proposal to alter forest rules angers environmentalists
SEATTLE -- The Bush administration's plan to loosen rules governing all 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands has drawn harsh criticism from environmentalists and applause from the timber industry.
The revised rules, announced Wednesday, would allow local federal forestry officials to develop or alter management plans for the land they supervise without having to first conduct an in-depth environmental impact study.
Bush officials defended the proposal as a way to remove red tape and paperwork costs. Critics said it was yet another attempt by the administration to aid business at the expense of the environment.
"Under these new regulations, big industry gets to carve up our national forests like a holiday turkey," said Randi Spivak, executive director of the environmental group American Lands Alliance. "Industry executives are going to gobble this new policy up."
But Chris West, vice president of the pro-business American Forest Resource Council, said the revised rules are fair, sensible and turn more decision-making over to regional foresters.
"What is being proposed today will be one step in returning decisions to the local decision-makers -- with their scientific staffs that understand the ground at the local level -- instead of topdown one-size-fits-all edicts from Washington, D.C.," said West, whose organization represents nearly 100 forest products companies.
The revised rules, crafted with White House oversight, will be published in the Federal Register next month, followed by a 90-day public comment period, before they are formally adopted.
"It's going to put science second and profits first," said Jasmine Minbashian, coordinator of the Northwest Old Growth Campaign, a coalition of 12 environmental groups.
"It's going to make it easier for the Forest Service to log mature and old-growth forests, roadless areas, areas of highest ecological integrity on the landscape. That's the exact opposite of what the public wants to see."
Eight senators and seven House members complained in a letter to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth that the new measures "establish no minimum standard for protecting species, no rigorous procedures for ecological studies and, in fact, no solid protections for wildlife and environmental sustainability."