National Conservation Groups Ask Bush Administration to Stop Creating Controversy Over America’s National Forests
Forest Service Misinterpretation of Court Order Politically-Motivated
Washington, D.C. – Leading conservation groups today urged the Bush administration to stop playing politics with the management of America’s National Forests. At issue is a court ruling that ordered the Forest Service to solicit public input on commercial timber sales, oil and gas drilling and other controversial and environmentally damaging projects. Instead of complying, the Forest Service has targeted common and non-controversial activities that Americans enjoy on their National Forests such as issuing permits for mushroom hunters, outfitters and other small business enterprises – even going so far as to threaten the harvesting of the national Christmas Tree in New Mexico.
Several Representatives and Senators have sent letters to Bush administration officials urging them to properly implement the court’s decision to allow citizens the regular use of their National Forests, including Senators Bingaman (D-NM), Harkin (D-IA), and Salazar (D-CO), and Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), John Salazar (D-CO), Tom Udall (D-CO), Lois Capps (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and George Miller (D-CA).
“The Bush administration is trying to manufacture a backlash by creating a false sense of controversy and finding scapegoats,” said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. “It is the Bush administration, not conservation groups, that is slowing down simple projects in the wake of this court order.”
Judge Singleton made clear that his ruling didn’t apply to everything stating: “While the Forest Service is clearly not required to make every minor project subject to the appeals process, it is required to delineate between major and minor projects in a way that gives permissible effect to the language of the Appeals Reform Act.” Nonetheless, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth issued a directive Sept. 23 halting all minor projects on the National Forests.
“The court told the Forest Service to reinstate public comment on activities like timber sales and oil and gas exploration, but the agency chose instead to play politics by applying the order to activities that are not controversial,” said Matt Kenna of the Western Environmental Law Center, representing the conservation groups in the case.
Meanwhile, environmental groups that are parties in the lawsuit have urged the judge for clarification on an expedited basis. The intent of the lawsuit was to ensure that the public would have a say on major projects like timber sales. The Forest Service had tried to create a short-cut eliminating environmental analysis and the opportunity for public involvement for logging projects, but the judge concluded that this violated the law.
“It is a shame that this administration refuses to recognize that public participation in major decisions about projects like timber sales should not be feared and fought, but should be a welcome and helpful part of making informed and thorough decisions,” said Bill Meadows, President of The Wilderness Society.
At the heart of this controversy are the new regulations put in place by the Bush administration in 2003 that removed the rights of public comment and appeal on several types of “non-controversial” projects, or “categorical exclusions,” including timber sales up to 250 acres in size. The regulations in place prior to the Bush rules noted a difference between activities such as harvesting mushrooms and a 250-acre timber sale.
“The Bush administration is proving that it is not above playing politics with Christmas trees, mushrooms and even weddings held in national forests in their dogged pursuit to remove the American people from decision-making,” said Marty Hayden of Earthjustice.
The controversy over the court ruling comes at a time when the Bush administration and some members of Congress are working to undermine the “magna carta of environmental laws,” the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires federal agencies to study and disclose the environmental effects of major projects on the surrounding community and include the public in the decision-making process for federally funded projects
“The public has a right to know about and comment on projects, especially where logging or drilling could damage water, recreation areas and wildlife,” said Randi Spivak, Executive Director of American Lands Alliance. “The Bush administration continues to put big timber and oil companies first, and citizens last.”
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