Anti-market activist groups won two significant victories in December and January as first the Bush Forest Service, and then a federal district judge, placed new restrictions on timber recovery in the American West.
Forest Service endorses Clinton plan
Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture, announced on December 27 that the Bush administration would support former President Bill Clinton’s plan to significantly restrict logging, cattle grazing, and recreational use in over 11 million acres of national forests in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Clinton issued the plan during his final week in office, along with numerous other controversial environmental measures. The plan prohibits logging of most trees larger than 20 inches in diameter throughout the 11 million acres. As a result, logging in the region, stretching from southern California northward for over 500 miles toward the Oregon border, will be limited to merely 10 percent of what was allowed in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
Forest Service chief Dale Bosworth had announced on November 16 that the Bush administration would endorse the Clinton plan virtually wholesale. Rey’s December 27 announcement affirmed Bosworth’s initial determination.
Bosworth added a caveat, saying “I am instructing the Regional Forester to re-evaluate the decision for possibilities of more flexibility” in fine-tuning the policy to help prevent forest fires. “I believe opportunities exist for refining the decision. Decades of fire suppression have often produced overcrowded vegetation in our forests, weakening trees and rendering them more fire prone and more susceptible to pests, diseases, and displacement by invasive species.”
Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Jack Blackwell responded with a statement that the plan would be under “broad review” during the next 12 months. Forest Service spokesperson Matt Mathes assured that Blackwell is “a fair-minded listener open to working with all interest groups.”
Anti-market activist groups allege the new restrictions are necessary to protect a variety of endangered species. While expressing some concern that fire-suppression adjustments may soften the effects of the prohibitions, most such groups welcomed the decision.
“Today the sun is shining on California’s Range of Light,” said Jay Watson, regional director of the Wilderness Society.
Recreationists, loggers, and market-friendly environmentalists, however, were disappointed in the decision.
Bob Roberts, director of the California Snow ski resorts, observed that ski resorts will not be able to add new lifts if they cannot remove trees larger than 20 inches in diameter.
“Recreation has been a casualty of the process,” asserted Roberts.
Dan Amador, spokesperson for the Blue Ribbon Coalition of off-road vehicle users, agreed. “It’s no secret that this process was hijacked by operatives in the Clinton administration,” said Amador.
California Forestry Association President David Bischel noted that the more stringent logging restrictions will merely exacerbate already-dangerous forest fire conditions. Dense forest growth has been a primary cause of catastrophic forest fires in recent years.
Bischel called the Forest Service’s ruling “the worst decision they could have made,” one that will “add to the risk of catastrophic wildfire.”
As Bosworth himself conceded, “The scope of our forest health problem today is enormous. Decades of fire suppression have often produced overcrowded vegetation, weakening trees and rendering them more fire prone and more susceptible to pests [and] diseases.”
Representative Wally Herger (R-California) was especially concerned that Washington officials drafted a plan opposed by most of his northern California constituents, who will be directly affected by the plan.
“I was very surprised and disappointed,” said Herger. “This shows just how far the radical environmentalists have infiltrated public policy in America.”
Rose Comstock-Correira, executive director of the Northern Sierra Natural Resources Coalition, expressed regret that the plan ignored the realities of the California economy.
“This is no time to make decisions that cut through the heart of rural livelihoods and create barriers to removing excessive fuels resulting in further harming the environment and families,” said Comstock-Correira.
“The Framework decision readily admits the effects will increase child poverty by 50 percent in communities most affected,” she continued, “because parents who work in the timber and agriculture industries will experience the most job losses and [losses in] income. Any federal agency making decisions intentionally placing 50 percent of our community’s children in poverty is indescribable but clearly no less than a death sentence to local economies and the surrounding forests.”