WS>>Lawmakers Eye Forest Restrictions
carl william spitzer iv
cwsiv_2nd at JUNO.COM
Tue Nov 11 19:32:37 MST 2003
By ALAN FRAM
[TPD Editors Note: Yup, the Greens would rather they burn down!]
WASHINGTON- Environmental groups are opposing an
effort by Western Republican senators to make it easier for
loggers to thin forests on up to 10 million acres of federal
land, a proposal the lawmakers say will help prevent wild-
Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Pete Domenici, R-N.M.,
introduced the plan on Tuesday. A vote could occur this week
and is expected to be close, though the sponsors are working
behind the scenes to fashion a bipartisan compromise in an
effort that could stretch into next week.
The measure would reduce the documentation currently
required before downed and diseased trees could be removed
from national forests, and before trees from thickly forest-
ed lands could be thinned. It would also limit the adminis-
trative and legal avenues that opponents could pursue in
trying to block those harvests.
"If we don't, we'll spend another year burning," Craig
told reporters. "There is no alternative right now."
Environmentalists say supporters are using one of the
worst years for wildfires on record as an excuse to pursue
one major goal: helping the logging industry. This summer,
wildfires have torched more than 6 million acres from Alaska
to New Mexico, or double the average summer of the past
"They're sweeping aside our primary environmental law
that requires agencies to look before they log," said Marty
Hayden, legislative director of Earthjustice, an environmen-
Some forest experts say that taking out small trees
leaves flammable material on the forest floor and can make
it more prone to fire. An alternative is to set targeted
fires during the early spring and late fall months to clear
out excessive growth.
The thinning proposal is similar to a plan that Presi-
dent Bush introduced last month.
Supporters say it also resembles a provision that
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., inserted into an
anti-terrorism bill this summer that makes it easier for
such trees to be removed from lands in his home state.
Daschle aides have said his measure was different
because it had the approval of some environmental groups and
local officials, and because it resulted in extra lands in
the state being designated as wilderness areas.
Domenici and Craig offered their proposal as an amend-
ment to a $19.3 billion measure financing the Interior
Department next year.
That bill was also the battleground for a separate
high-stakes political vote on Tuesday. By a lopsided 79-16,
senators voted to add $6 billion to it to help farmers and
ranchers battered by the drought, despite objections from
Bush that the aid would increase federal red ink.
Thirty-one Republicans joined 47 Democrats and one
independent in supporting the proposal, as senators showed
little taste for opposing a new boost in farm assistance at
the height of the campaign season. The vote came with crops
and pastures wilting across the West, Midwest and Southeast.
"This is an emergency. We need this help," said Dasch-
le, the chief sponsor.
Underlining the political stakes, just one of the 16
GOP senators running for re-election in November - Sen. Jeff
Sessions of Alabama - opposed the package. Colorado, South
Dakota, Iowa and Montana are among several states hit hard
by the drought where close contests could decide which party
has the Senate majority next year.
Bush has said that to prevent reborn federal deficits
from getting worse, aid for farmers and ranchers with
parched lands should come from the $180 billion, six-year
farm bill enacted in May or from other budget savings.
Daschle's plan would be financed by government borrowing,
which would drive up projected red ink.
"There are a number of ways to do this in a manner
that both helps the farmers, which is important, and also
does it in a fiscally responsible manner," said White House
spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Some Republicans who voted for the proposal belittled
it as a political exercise and predicted the version that
ultimately becomes law will be smaller. The Republican-run
House has not approved any drought aid, and its GOP leaders
have supported Bush's demand that any new aid be paid for.
But supporters said that just as Congress provides
disaster aid for floods and hurricanes, it should help the
thousands of growers whose livelihoods have been threatened
by bone-dry conditions unseen in many states for decades.
The proposal would cover some losses sustained by
farmers and ranchers in 2001 and 2002 from drought, floods
or other natural causes.
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