Bi-partisan fuels reduction plan

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at
Thu Oct 3 19:24:30 EST 2002

October 3, 2002   Denver Post

Forest-thinning pact up for vote
By Mike Soraghan
Denver Post Washington Bureau 

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan group of House members has forged a
compromise that represents the last hope of passing a plan this year
to thin national forests of dangerous underbrush that fuels
catastrophic wildfires.

Alarmed by blazes that rippled across Colorado and many other parts of
the West this summer, and mindful that the Senate was deadlocked, Rep.
Scott McInnis, chairman of the House forest subcommittee, and Rep.
George Miller, D-Calif., negotiated a plan to relax environmental laws
in order to speed thinning projects in forests near cities.

Key provisions of the plan guarantee that roads won't be built in
undeveloped areas of national forests. It also limits, but preserves,
the ability of citizens and environmental groups to appeal
tree-cutting projects.

"This pulls us to the middle of the road," said McInnis, a Regpublican
from Grand Junction. "If anything is going to be done, it has to be
done now. That's why we had to have a bipartisan bill."

Though it is not as sweeping as the plan President Bush announced in
August to suspend environmental laws on 10 million acres of public
lands, McInnis said the plan has the support of the White House.

But Congress is running out of time before its fall recess. And
conservationists, whose opposition stalled similar efforts in the
Senate, quickly lashed out at the plan as an invitation for abuse by
the timber industry.

"It will create more problems than it will solve," said Sean Cosgrove
of the Sierra Club. "There are a lot of ways to improve forest health,
but we seem to only be focused on eliminating rights to appeal and
repealing environmental laws."

McInnis, Miller and Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore. - unlikely allies from
opposite sides of the political spectrum - spent weeks behind closed
doors devising a plan. What they came up with would brush aside much
of the environmental analysis required on thinning projects if they're
in targeted "red zones" near communities.

The plan says 70 percent of the projects have to be in the "red zone."
It also allows thinning on 2 million acres in the backcountry that are
needed for threatened species or because of disease or bug
infestation. Conservationists worry such backcountry projects are
simply commercial timber projects disguised as thinning.

One of the most contentious arguments is over whether to limit
environmental groups' right to go to court to stop a tree-cutting
project. The McInnis-Miller plan allows for legal appeals, but
prevents court injunctions and orders judges to make a decision within
five months.

Where Bush had wanted to allow blanket authority for land managers to
enter into "stewardship contracts" to thin large areas of forest for
years, the plan would authorize 41 projects between the Forest Service
and the Bureau of Land Management.

It would specifically ban new roads for thinning projects in Forest
Service roadless areas. Roadless areas could be thinned if no roads
were built.

"We decided that a lot of the agenda that surrounds the forest debate
had to be left aside," Miller said. "As the rains come and the snow
starts to fall, people start to forget. But there will be another fire
season, and this is a realistic plan."

The plan will be voted on today in the House Resources Committee. But
the real test is in the Senate, where any plan must win the support of
60 of the 100 members to guard against a possible filibuster.

The lawmakers are counting on the bipartisan nature of the bill, and
the reputations of those involved to push it through the Senate.
McInnis is known as a pro-business Westerner, and Miller, the former
chairman of the House Resources Committee, was once dubbed "the Green
Giant" by the Sierra Club.

"Having Miller and DeFazio speaks volumes," McInnis said.

Comment by poster: It's a good start and let's hope that it will stay
a true compromise. Minimal droughts will still continue to have major
effects on overstocked forests out of the "red zone". Remember,
"crisis logging" is not a sustainable activity. I see the new
compromise partially addresses that problem but, is it OK to sacrifice
those areas in favor of saving human's houses? Regardless of how it
shakes out, the BLM and USFS have serious manpower problems. It's fine
and dandy to spend MILLIONS and MILLIONS of dollars to produce these
documents and project details. It will take true talent and experience
to implement them properly. Maybe the only way to insure proper
implementation of these projects is for the public to review the
"finished product" and take it to court if it has been done wrong.
Many folks in the government hate having the public looking over their
shoulders but......I welcome extra eyes checking MY work.

Mark my words: I predict that the Bush Administration will force the
BLM and USFS to use fire fighters to pick up the slack in putting
these projects together.


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