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The Planet
How to Protect National Forests When Your President Won’t

By Sean Cosgrove
National Forest Policy Specialist

I know it; chances are you know it; even the Denver Post knows that "when it comes to the environment, President George W. Bush may be the worst president the nation has had in at least a century." But most Americans, distracted by the war in Iraq, security issues, and the economy, still don’t know it. A big part of our job is to let them know.

One of the areas where the Bush administration’s regressive environmental policies are most flagrant is its proposals for national forest management. Led by Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, formerly the timber industry’s top lobbyist, the administration has spent the last three years ramping up the taxpayer-subsidized federal logging program.

The very day he took office, Bush issued a halt on new Clinton regulations such as the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Roads Transportation Rule, and a raft of other environmental and worker safety protections. From the get-go, the administration has worked assiduously to remove or reduce protection of wild roadless forests, increase logging under the guise of preventing forest fires, degrade wildlife habitat, and remove citizens’ ability to participate in the planning of forest projects.

Capped by the notoriously ill-named "Healthy Forests Initiative," the administration and their political allies have proposed a bounty of gifts that any timber industry executive would love to receive. In fact, during a summer fundraising swing, House Speaker Dennis Hastert boasted that the Healthy Forests Initiative is "an important bill for the forest industry" and called it "a common sense approach to make sure we can build the roads we have to build so this industry can start to come back." That’s a far cry from the Forest Service’s stated mission to "Caring for the Land and Serving People."

A few examples of what the Bush administration has in mind:

• Dismantling the 14 years of science and collaboration that produced a sound management plan for the Sierra Nevada national forests. The administration announced in June that it would scrap the current plan for one favored by the timber industry that will triple logging levels on eleven national forests in California. The Bush plan would open spotted owl reserves to logging and allow cutting of trees nearly 8 feet in circumference under the guise of "fuel reduction."

• The Forest Service has proposed a post-fire logging project in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest to log 500 million board feet—the single largest timber sale proposed in modern times—in more than 12,000 acres of wild roadless forest burned in 2002. The administration’s proposal diverts funding and resources from real fuel reduction around threatened Oregon communities in order to helicopter-log remote wild areas.

• The Bush administration is rewriting forest plans to increase logging on national forests in South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and West Virginia. In one case, a Forest Service whistleblower in Tennessee released information that the agency was ignoring scientific evidence in order to promote a larger timber program. Because of the "Healthy Forests Initiative" we can also expect the Forest Service to promote logging in pristine southern forests under the guise of "insect infestations" and "fuel reduction."

It doesn’t have to be this way. The Sierra Club’s vision for the national forests calls for defending the rights of citizens to take part in federal land management, protecting wild undeveloped forests from logging and roadbuilding, ending commercial logging on the national forests, and restoring damaged forests. In the next year it means stopping the Bush administration’s attacks on forest safeguards. In the long run it comes down to "Protecting the Best and Restoring the Rest."

The first step is to get informed. The Sierra Club’s National Forest Protection and Restoration Campaign has information and materials to help you and your chapter or group stop the Bush attacks and help keep our forests standing. For example:

In California, the campaign worked with the Mother Lode Chapter to appeal and bring suit on the "Red Star" roadless area logging project; the federal district court issued a temporary restraining order ruling that such logging would increase rather than decrease fire risk. In Montana, the campaign provided support and coordination to the Montana Chapter for a lawsuit challenging a Lolo National Forest post-fire salvage sale that would have logged 4,600 acres; the federal district court issued a historic order in the Club’s favor on water quality issues that will set a nationwide precedent. In the Southern Appalachians, the campaign worked with five chapters to draft and submit legally comprehensive comments on the 15-year management plans for national forests in Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama.

" Restoring America’s Forests," a report available in print and online, establishes the economic and ecological benefits of investing in forest ecosystem protection. The "Community Protection Plan" developed by the Club and our allies provides solutions communities can use to protect themselves from forest fires. More data on logging subsidies, economic loss caused by logging, economic benefits of forest protection, job creation from restoration, and the values of clean water, wildlife, and recreation will help to highlight that there are better solutions for individual national forests and the nation than the Bush administration has provided. You can find all this and more at sierraclub.org/forests.

Each new Bush attack is an opportunity to bring in more of your friends, neighbors and local Club members into forest protection efforts. One major issue to get engaged in is the Bush administration’s effort to rewrite the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. These are excellent opportunities for building environmental community with town hall meetings, door-to-door outreach, mailings with follow-up phone banks, and repeated editorial board visits. Forest protection trainings, speaking events, and campus outreach will also be helpful to find new friends and train new volunteers.

Holding the administration accountable on the ground and in the court of public opinion will be key to stopping the Bush logging plans. For those chapters directly involved in a local national forest protection effort, the Club’s forest campaign can help with building a "forest watch" program, appeals and lawsuits on local timber sales, outreach events, and campaign and media trainings. Highlighting illegal timber sales in the media and with the public will show that the Bush administration’s anti-forest proposals are really serving the timber corporations and not the public interest.

For more information on the Sierra Club’s National Forest Protection and Restoration Campaign see sierraclub.org/forests





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