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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of December 24 - 30, 2002


New forest policies pushed by Bush spark confusion

Express Staff Write

With 34 million acres of public land within its borders, Idaho is at the center of a growing political debate that could help shape 21st century natural resources policies.

In the span of two days earlier this month, seemingly conflicting forest designs were primed for implementation. On Dec. 12, a Ninth Circuit Appeals Court upheld a Clinton administration rule protecting road-free forests from road construction. One day earlier the Bush administration announced a plan to make it easier to cut down trees in national forests in order to protect the forests from catastrophic wildfires.

Adding to the confusion, the Bush administration proposed just two weeks earlier to give managers of the nation’s 155 national forests greater leeway to approve logging and commercial activities with less examination of potential environmental damages.

In whatever light they are cast, these measures will have implications for Idaho and the state’s vast acreage of publicly owned forests and sagebrush. What’s more, their convergence has left people bewildered and exhausted, said Martin Nie, assistant professor of natural resource policy at the University of Montana.

"Recent cases make such cynicism understandable," Nie wrote in an essay published by Headwaters News. "Some political interests, for example, complain of litigious environmentalist behavior—of abusing the administrative appeals process among other things—while at the same time using the courts to stop Clinton’s proposed roadless rule."

While Clinton’s roadless policy and Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative may ultimately be implemented side-by-side—one within the other’s framework—Nie suggested the policies help to illustrate the hypocritical and confusing nature of public lands politics.

Opponents of the roadless rule often argue that a decision of that magnitude should be made by Congress, not by the executive branch using the administrative rule making process.

"The same interests now champion this rule-making process and presidential prerogative as a way to seriously change U.S. forest policy by ‘streamlining’ environmental review and decision making processes," Nie wrote.

Among those "interests" is Idaho’s Second Congressional District Rep. Mike Simpson, who was a leading critic of the process used by the Clinton Administration when it implemented the roadless policy.

"I applaud the president’s leadership on this important issue," Simpson said regarding Bush’s Healthy Forests Initiative. "The actions undertaken today will improve the fuels reduction process by eliminating bureaucratic red tape and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the environmental assessment process."

Simpson Press Secretary Luci Willits said the congressman supported Bush’s decision, both because the end result was desirable and because the measure had good momentum in the House of Representatives before stalling earlier this fall.

"A lot of this has to do with cutting bureaucratic red tape. They’re trying to speed up the reduction of fuels," Willits said.

The wildfire fuel reduction policy calls for culling dead and dying fuel from federal land on 10 national pilot projects, including the Portneuf Project near Pocatello. It is the only pilot project planned for Idaho.

Supporters say the projects will protect homes in areas where forests and cities mesh. Opponents say the projects will limit public input and are a step in the wrong direction.

"They just can’t help themselves. At every opportunity the White House is working overtime to cut the public out and invite the logging companies into our national forests," said Robert Dewey, a spokesman for Defenders of Wildlife.

But Interior Secretary Gale Norton put it differently.

"Dense, overgrown forests and range lands have grown like a cancer," she said. "They need to be treated."

The opposing comments are indicative of the public lands’ schizophrenic struggles, Nie said.

"I have no doubt the Forest Service is well equipped to scientifically and efficiently manage our forests once we decide for what purpose they should be managed," he wrote. "But like other bureaucracies, they are not as well designed to resolve value-based political conflicts. And that is where we’re at right now."


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