- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

Democrats this week hope to revise a stalled Clinton-era initiative to stop timber-cutting in national forests, even as fires fueled by unkept undergrowth ravage the West.
The so-called "roadless" plan would ban any new road building through national forests, most of which are built and used by timber companies to clear trees and by summer fire fighting crews to reach wildland fires.
The proposal is tied up in the courts the subject of nine separate lawsuits but Democrats and a handful of Republicans will try tomorrow to attach it to the 2003 Interior spending bill on the floor.
It will be a "treacherous task" to convince lawmakers to adopt such a proposal at this time, said Rep. Scott McInnis, Colorado Republican and chairman of the House Resources subcommittee on forests and forest health.
"This is a debate about whether we're going to bury our heads in the ideological sand as wildfire ravages vast swaths of the western United States," Mr. McInnis said. "If that's the debate they want to have, then by all means, let's debate."
Labor unions that normally side with Democrats are instead lining up behind Republicans in opposition to the measure, including the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, National Federation of Federal Employees, Western Council of Industrial Workers, and Woodworkers District One of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
"By limiting active management, the legislation will inhibit the Forest Service's ability to control the fire risk in national forests," Douglas J. McCarron, president of the carpenters union, said in a letter to Congress.
There are 22 million acres in roadless forests that are at moderate to high risk of catching fire, according the Forest Service.
"These acres need active management in order to remain healthy," Mr. McCarron said.
The bill's main sponsor, Rep. Jay Inslee, Washington Democrat, says his measure will balance environmental and economic concerns.
"By protecting our remaining roadless areas, we will ensure that pristine forests continue to provide sources of clean public drinking water, an undisturbed habitat for fish and wildlife and thousands of acres for the many forms of recreation we now enjoy," Mr. Inslee said in announcing the measure.
The National Interagency Fire Center reported yesterday that more than 47,500 fires have burned 3.25 million acres this year. Forest Service Chief Dale N. Bosworth said this season is quickly approaching the record set in 2000, when 123,000 fires burned 8.4 million acres.
This year's destructive wildfires have forced Mr. Bosworth to suspend all nonemergency activities to devote full agency funding to fight the fires.
Congress gave the agency $321 million for fire suppression, but Mr. Bosworth is expecting that costs could reach as high as $1 billion.
In a July 8 memo addressed to all regional forests and obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Bosworth directed that no money be spent on land acquisitions, grants, noncritical projects or travel not deemed critical, including meetings and conferences.
Just before the disastrous 2000 fire season, the previous administration moved $17 million for fire suppression to President Clinton's prized lands legacy initiative.
"I recognize that this direction will have a significant effect on agency operations," Mr. Bosworth said. "However, it is clear that the priority of the Forest Service has been redefined by the current fire season.
"We must be in a position to protect life and property from wildfire, and do so within the funds available to the agency," Mr. Bosworth said.
To cover firefighting costs, the Forest Service will borrow money from those accounts and replenish it later with emergency supplemental funds from Congress, said Mark Rey, Agriculture Department undersecretary of natural resources and environment.
"Right now, we are taking a prudent approach to defer expenditures in case we need money for fire fighting. Then we will pay it back later. We have the money to borrow, so we will get through this," Mr. Rey said.


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