"I am sad to report this Earth Day that in the last year, our forests have suffered a full-scale assault at the hands of the Bush administration. The administration's goal appears to be one of serving the corporate interests who drill, mine and log our public lands first, and placing the needs of fish, wildlife, and the owners of these lands – the American public – last.
"When it comes to our National Forests, the Bush administration has adopted a policy of leave no tree behind. Never in modern times has there been an administration so singly focused on getting fish, wildlife, the public and the law out of the way of commercial timber interests and other extractive industries. From undermining wildlife conservation requirements; to proposing broad new exemptions from environmental reviews of logging projects; to proposals to eliminate protections for salmon in the Pacific Northwest; the theme is a constant one – if it gets in the way of cutting trees, it's out of there.
"The Bush administration recently thanked Congress for slipping one part of its so-called Healthy Forest Initiative (HFI) into the FY 2003 omnibus spending bill as a last minute rider. The administration touted this program, which allows the timber industry to design 10-year logging projects and pay themselves in trees, as the "funding mechanism" for HFI. For this scheme to work, the trees have to be big enough to sell. Bigger trees are typically found deep in the forest, not adjacent to at-risk communities.
"It is telling that the only piece of the HFI agenda to have become law is the one most desired by the timber industry.
"Administration officials are now demanding that Congress move on the rest of their HFI agenda: abolishing environmental reviews on millions of acres of logging projects; elimination of the law that allows the public to administratively question agency decisions; and tampering with the courts to allow logging projects found illegal to still be cut.
"But HFI is not the least of the Bush administration's actions to increase public lands logging. The administration's proposed rewrite of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) regulations seeks to undermine a standard for wildlife conservation that was adopted by President Reagan more than 20 years ago. Enforceable standards for maintaining wildlife populations have been a hallmark of these rules since that time, and now the Bush administration is proposing to make these requirements optional.
"The proposed NFMA regulations would also allow forest plans to be exempted from the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law requiring federal agencies to examine the potential environmental impacts of their actions. Undermining NEPA regulations has been a hallmark of the Bush administration; the administration is now in the process of finalizing exemptions from NEPA for five types of logging projects.
"Earlier this month, the administration unveiled another attack on forest protections: its proposed overhaul of the Northwest Forest Plan's Aquatic Conservation Strategy, the result of back-room negotiations with the timber industry. These negotiations were conducted under the guise of settling industry lawsuits, even though the industry had never actually challenged the Aquatic Conservation Strategy in court. The administration is now proposing to abolish the core requirement of the Strategy, which specifies that logging must be conducted in a manner that protects aquatic habitat and keeps the watershed on the path to recovery.
"The Bush administration's approach to forest management boils down to a comprehensive weakening of environmental protections. We will continue to oppose all efforts to open up more forests to destructive logging, so that on future Earth Days we will still be able to tout our forests as a national treasure, not a distant memory."