- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Forest Service yesterday recommended revisions to Clinton-era regulations for managing the nation's 155 national forests, a move critics say will lead to increased logging.
Forest Service officials say the existing regulations, which are used to determine use of national forests for logging, grazing, recreation and species protections, are time consuming, costly and make it difficult to respond to forests changed by drought, fire or bug infestation.
"We've seen thousands of acres burn in a single year, and thousands more die of disease in a year, and it takes six years to build a forest plan, so it is virtually impossible to respond to that situation," said Sally Collins associate forest chief. "This enables us to respond quickly and efficiently."
Environmentalists and Capitol Hill Democrats oppose the plan, which they say will allow the Forest Service to bypass stringent rules to promote logging, eliminate scientific review requirements and reduce public collaboration.
"This is part of an ongoing and systematic assault by the administration on our natural resources and environmental protections," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat and ranking member of the House Resources Committee.
Asked if the end result would be more logging, Mrs. Collins said that would be determined by individual forest lands.
"We can't say it's going up, down, sideways or staying the same, but it will involve the public from the beginning," Mrs. Collins said.
The proposal to rewrite the year 2000 regulations put into effect two months before Mr. Clinton left office is to "simplify and streamline" land management because the previous rule "is neither straightforward nor easy to implement," the proposal said.
Proponents say it also discourages litigation by bringing environmental groups and other interested parties to the table when negotiations begin on specific forest plans instead of after the final decision has been made.
"The problem now is the process is very technical and lasts forever. The average person gets driven out of the process," said Fred Norbury, director of ecosystem management coordination.
"We think the process we create is more accessible to the average citizen," Mr. Norbury said.
Plans for more than 100 forests must be rewritten in the next decade, and the new rules give enough flexibility for officials to save $300 million on the studies, officials said.
Environmentalists also are angry that form letters and postcards will not be accepted as public comment.
"Postcards from the average Americans will no longer be accepted as input on the forest service rules," said Phillip E. Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust.
"To the hikers, campers, and fishermen, the Bush administration is saying 'we are not interested in hearing from you, we only care about hearing from the timber industry,'" Mr. Clapp said.
On Capitol Hill, the postcards are routinely sent in bundles where offices have determined that thousands often contain forged signatures, sometimes from dead people.
"What we are finding is that form letters and petitions are indicators of concern, but do not do a good job of telling us what the concerns are," Mr. Norbury said.
The 155-page proposal would affect 192 million acres of national forests and grasslands in 44 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. A final decision will be made after 90 days of public comment.

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