The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

December 25, 2004

Happy Holidays to the rest of us, but -

May the Bush administration gang die painful deaths in the New Year. May they 
suffer the blight they've brought on Iraq and around the world. May they die 
the way our own wildlife is going to die within the doubletalk below.

- Alan

New York Times:


Administration Overhauls Rules for U.S. Forests

December 23, 2004

Correction Appended

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 - The Bush administration issued broad
new rules Wednesday overhauling the guidelines for managing
the nation's 155 national forests and making it easier for
regional forest managers to decide whether to allow
logging, drilling or off-road vehicles.

The long-awaited rules relax longstanding provisions on
environmental reviews and the protection of wildlife on 191
million acres of national forest and grasslands. They also
cut back on requirements for public participation in forest
planning decisions.

Forest Service officials said the rules were intended to
give local foresters more flexibility to respond to
scientific advances and threats like intensifying wildfires
and invasive species. They say the regulations will also
speed up decisions, ending what some public and private
foresters see as a legal and regulatory gridlock that has
delayed forest plans for years because of litigation and
requirements for time-consuming studies.

"You're trying to manage towards how we want the forest to
look and be in the future," said Rick D. Cables, the Forest
Service's regional forester for the Rocky Mountain region.

The rules give the nation's regional forest managers and
the Forest Service increased autonomy to decide whether to
allow logging roads or cellphone towers, mining activity or
new ski areas.

Environmental groups said the new rules pared down
protection for native animals and plants to the point of
irrelevance. These protections were a hallmark of the 1976
National Forest Management Act.

"The new planning regulations offer little in the way of
planning and nothing in the way of regulation," the
conservation group Trout Unlimited said in a statement.

Martin Hayden, a lawyer with Earthjustice, a law firm
affiliated with the Sierra Club, accused the administration
of watering down protections "that are about fish and
wildlife, that are about public participation, or about
forcing the agency to do anything other than what the
agency wants to do."

"What you are left with is things that are geared toward
getting the sticks out," Ms. Hayden said.

The original 1976 law on forest management was intended to
ensure that regional managers showed environmental
sensitivity in decisions on how the national forests would
be used. During the 1990's, the Clinton administration
sought major revisions in the rules governing how the act
was carried out. But the Clinton-era regulation was not
completed in time to take effect before President Bush
assumed office.

The new rules incorporate an approach that has gained favor
in private industries from electronics to medical device
manufacturing. The practice, used by companies like Apple
Computer, allows businesses to set their own environmental
goals and practices and then subjects them to an outside
audit that judges their success.

These procedures are called environmental management
systems. When the Forest Service started investigating
these systems, said Fred Norbury, a deputy associate chief
at the Forest Service, "what we discovered to our surprise
is that the U.S. is a little behind the rest of the world
and we in government are a little behind the curve."

In the case of the Forest Service, the supervisors of the
individual forests and grasslands will shape forest
management plans, and the effects of those will be subject
to independent audits.

The auditors the Forest Service chooses could range from
other Forest Service employees to outsiders, said Sally
Collins, an associate chief at the Forest Service. She said
the auditors could come from an environmental group or an
industry group like timber "or a ski area, local citizens
or a private contractor."

Forest supervisors are appointed by the Forest Service to
manage national forests and report to regional managers.
Some are more supportive of pro-timber policies, while
others are more steeped in the environmental ethos.

One of the ways the new rules give forest supervisors more
power is that they are allowed to approve plans more
quickly for any particular forest use - ranging from
recreation to logging to grazing - and to adjust plans with
less oversight.

For instance, an existing requirement to keep all fish and
wildlife species from becoming threatened or endangered is
jettisoned. In its place is a requirement that managers
consider the best available science to protect all natural
resources when they are making decisions.

Michael D. Ferrucci, a partner in the Connecticut
consulting firm Interforest and a former forest manager who
now performs audits for private industry and state
governments, said Wednesday: "I personally think the
flexibility implied in this approach is terrific. It will
help to unlock the power and creativity of a lot of good

He added: "Most environmentalists and most scientists who
follow forestry understand that more flexibility is needed.
But there is a risk of making some of the mistakes we made
20 and 25 years ago. The mistake we made was to be a little
too narrowly focused on the timber side." In the 1980's,
extensive logging took place in places like the Tongass
National Forest in Alaska and Oregon's old growth forests.

But Chris Wood, the vice president for conservation at
Trout Unlimited, warned that the new approach would require
a heavy financial commitment to ensure enough people could
monitor the impact of regulations and alert managers to

Amy Mall, a forestry specialist at the Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environmental group, said in a
statement: "The rule is illegal. It rips the guts out of
National Forest management plans. It doesn't ensure that
the Forest Service provides the necessary resources to
implement plans."

The final rule requires forest managers to comply with the
requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the
cornerstone of the current environmental regulations on
government and industry.

But an accompanying proposal - which is open to public
comment for 60 days - gives managers new discretion on what
kind of environmental review constitutes compliance.

Mr. Norbury of the Forest Service said that under this
proposal, the forest supervisor would be making the call as
to whether a particular plan must undergo a full
environmental impact statement, a more modest review or no
formal review.

In Congress, where partisan divisions over environmental
protections have grown more acute in recent years, the new
rules were greeted with enthusiasm by Republican leaders
and anger by Democrats.

Representative Richard W. Pombo, the chairman of the
Republican-controlled House Resources Committee, hailed the
change, saying that currently "the process is so burdensome
and time consuming that the plans are obsolete before they
are finished."

But Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the ranking Democrat on the
Senate Agriculture Committee, said, "The Bush
administration's new plan threatens to derail decades of
progress in that direction by backing away from
longstanding, bipartisan commitments to nontimber resources
like wildlife, public involvement and scientific review."

Correction: December 24, 2004, Friday:

Because of an
editing error, a front-page article yesterday about new
rules for managing the national forests referred
incorrectly in some copies to a representative of
Earthjustice who criticized the plan. The representative is
a man, Martin Hayden. The article also misstated his title
and, because of another editing error, described
Earthjustice incorrectly. Mr. Hayden is the organization's
legislative director but is not a lawyer. Earthjustice is
an environmental law firm, not affiliated with the Sierra


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