Bush vs Kerry, Roadless Rumble and Forestry Fight

Larry Harrell lhfotoware at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 23 09:39:15 EST 2004


Monday, July 19, 2004   Oregonian
Bush, Kerry campaigns build on forest issue 
Opposing positions are worth political points, but forest managers
think who is president will matter little in roadless areas
by MICHAEL MILSTEIN, MICHELLE COLE and JEFF MAPES 

To hear the Bush and Kerry campaigns tell it, the very fate of Western
forests hinges on the next presidential election.

Environmentalists backing Sen. John Kerry last week blamed the Bush
administration for abandoning protections for roadless lands -- with
one, Portland's Ken Rait, accusing the president of "dealing our wild
forests away as payola for campaign contributors."

Meanwhile, Republican officials reacted with disdain when Kerry
released his plan for coping with the catastrophic wildfire threat
facing the West.

"The closest John Kerry has ever come to a forest is when he's looked
out the window of his Gulfstream on the way to his $10 million cabin
in Idaho," sniffed Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., in a conference call
with reporters arranged by the Bush campaign.

But all the posturing may have little to do with what really happens
in Western forests. Land managers have been trying to cull flammable
stands for years and will keep at it no matter who wins the election.
And timber companies show little interest in cutting down roadless
forests, which generally remain roadless because they have limited
commercial value and are remote and difficult to reach.

Even so, campaigns are using highly charged land issues to demonize
opponents and mobilize key political followings -- for Kerry,
environmentalists, and for President Bush, the rural West -- that
stand poles apart on those issues. It's especially valuable currency
in swing Western states such as Oregon.

Campaign rancor has distorted even the terminology. So many levels of
meaning are attached to a term such as "healthy forests" -- the label
for the president's initiative to head off severe wildfires -- that
nobody can say exactly what it means.

"It's now lost to rational thought, because it's a weapon in a
political war," said K. Norman Johnson, a forestry professor at Oregon
State University who has long had a hand in Northwest land policy.

Western forests have been political playthings for years. President
Clinton cast a protective blanket over 58.5 million acres of roadless
national forests in his final days in the White House, leaving a
conservation legacy that environmentalists saw as one of their
greatest victories in decades.

But the Clinton administration's own assessment found those lands in
no great peril at the time. No matter what happened, it said, at most
1 percent of roadless forests were likely to be logged in the next
five years, reflecting scarcely a half-percent of national timber
production, and much of that would be trees already killed by fire,
insects and disease.

A federal court suspended the Clinton rules last year, and the Bush
administration opted not to defend them. Bush officials last week
announced a new policy: Let states make the call on how much extra
protection roadless lands need.

The administration was careful to couch its actions to try to minimize
an uproar from voters sympathetic to the idea of protecting
wilderness.

Press releases said the administration was acting "to conserve
roadless forests," because of interim limits on development while
states recommend what to do. If states do nothing, though, the result
may be that roadless lands end up with no extra safeguards.

It was a shrewd election-year maneuver, said Oregon Gov. Ted
Kulongoski.

"They want me to do what they're supposed to do," he said. "I'm
assuming they think I'm supposed to do all these public hearings and
all these things. I go through all of that and I have no control of
the issue -- what they decide. I take all the political heat, and they
go back in a closet someplace and make a decision."

Roadless for a reason 

Even if states do not call for protection, national forests would
follow existing plans that reserve most roadless acres for primitive
recreation, said Forest Service spokesman Dan Jiron. Former U.S.
Forest Service Chief Mike Dombeck, who oversaw the Clinton roadless
protections, said the acreage remains primitive because it holds few
commercial resources.

Ending the protections will foster few jobs, he said. 

"It doesn't end the controversy, it doesn't protect the land, it
doesn't help the economy," Dombeck said. "There's a reason they're
roadless, and that's because all the good stuff is already gone."

Environmentalists who fought for roadless safeguards and timber
interests who opposed them say the debate, and the politics, hinges on
values. Do conservationists or natural-resource users get the upper
hand in making decisions?

Kerry has staked out a position closer to conservationists, while Bush
has leaned toward users.

The "real difference" between Bush and Kerry "is in whose motives you
trust," said Josh Kardon, chief of staff to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "I
don't anticipate that John Kerry will appoint timber industry
lobbyists to run his natural resource departments," as Bush did.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, say Bush has been the one who has been
consistently concerned about thinning forests to reduce fire danger --
and about doing what he could to increase timber jobs in economically
hard-hit rural communities.

Kerry "simply does not understand the issues," said former Montana
Gov. Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Bush re-election campaign.
"He's just out of touch with the people of the western United States."

Rescuing burned Biscuit 

The realities of federal forest management have a way of confounding
the sweeping political rhetoric.

For example, the only major incursion the Bush administration has
approved on roadless lands in the Lower 48 would be to log trees
killed by the 2002 Biscuit fire in Southwest Oregon's Siskiyou
National Forest. But it's not clear if the trees will be cut, for all
the same reasons there is little pressure to develop roadless lands in
the first place.

The trees must be airlifted from rugged slopes by helicopters, some at
more than four times the cost of those closer to roads. The cutting
will undoubtedly be contested in appeals and court, with even the
governor thinking about filing a formal protest. The U.S. Forest
Service says the controversial roadless logging is not a priority and
that it will sell other wood first. All the while, the value of the
trees is fading as they decay.

"The chances of something actually happening there would obviously be
less," said Richard Phillips, a Forest Service regional economist.

The Biscuit fire was also the backdrop for the president's Healthy
Forest Initiative. The program has swept up projects already in the
works to thin Western forests left overgrown by decades of fire
suppression. A bill Bush signed in December limited lawsuits and
appeals that slow the cutting the president said is long overdue.

Conservationists and Kerry painted the initiative as a giveaway of the
largest, most fire-resistant trees to loggers.

Old growth written in 

But the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, due in part to Wyden's
prodding, has some important safeguards. It gives unprecedented
protection to the old growth Kerry says he would protect from Bush
policies. It requires agencies to "fully maintain" or restore old
growth stands in the course of thinning, retaining large trees.

But Kerry, who opposed the bill, would have found it hard to join
Wyden and other Democrats who backed it. He was facing a tough primary
season and would have found it difficult to cross influential
environmental groups vociferously opposed to the bill.

Contention has since centered on money. Bush opponents say a lack of
federal funds will force logging of remote, big trees to raise
revenue, when attention is needed close to communities at risk of
fire.

Forest researchers say thinning is needed near homes and in more
remote forests where severe wildfires may ruin big trees and all. The
thinning must include both small trees that provide tinder and,
sometimes, bigger ones that could help carry flames through the
treetops, they say.

Kerry worked with Wyden and other Democrats on the plan he announced
this week. It pledges to focus thinning near communities and promises
at least $100 million a year for forest restoration, saved by ending
timber-industry subsidies.

Kerry now has "a more fully informed position on healthy forests,"
Kardon said, and is "serious about protecting Western communities from
catastrophic wildfires."

But forests do not operate on political cycles, and land managers say
it will take decades -- spanning many presidential terms -- to truly
restore forests so the wildfires that are a regular summer event do
not destroy them and communities. And that means voters can expect to
hear plenty more about forest issues.

"I think the public is very weary," said Bruce Shindler, a professor
of forest resources at Oregon State. "They're looking for some
leadership. The policy-makers are playing politics, not exercising
leadership."

Comment by poster: This is a wonderful article that spouts the
propaganda from both sides. Kerry's $100 million is just a drop in a
VERY large bucket. Bush has not fully funded the bi-partisan "Healthy
Forests" because his people say that the Forest Service "could not
spend that much in a year". BULLPUCKY! We could even pay eco-groups to
do some of that work themselves! Why not?!?

Politics should not be playing a role in restoring our National
Forests. As Le Messurier spoke about, either the forests need work or
they don't. Only sound science should be determining that. Maybe the
office of the Chief of the Forest Service should be
"re-de-politicized", allowing a non-partisan forest scientist to again
stay in office over several administrations.

Larry,     Healthy Forestry Technician



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