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-
     tal organization.

           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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