- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

Senate Democrats are blocking President Bush's forest-protection plan based in part on an environmental exemption that Majority Leader Tom Daschle has allowed for his home state of South Dakota to prevent wildfires.
Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, wants to attach an amendment to the Interior spending bill to stop environmentalists from using continued lawsuit appeals as a tool to block timber sales.
Democrats are filibustering the measure, which requires 60 votes for passage.
Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, who initially supported the initiative to extend portions of the Daschle exemption, withdrew his support yesterday.
Mr. Wyden agreed that there must be an aggressive attempt to remove fuels from forests dead and dying trees, and insect-infested timber but said Mr. Craig's proposal was not supported by environmentalists.
"Many in the environmental community don't trust the leadership in these agencies," Mr. Wyden said, referring to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. "It will polarize an intensive debate further."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, initially supported the Republican measure and said there was still hope for a compromise.
"I truly believe we have a real fire emergency in our forests," Mrs. Feinstein said. "I believe we are close to 60 votes."
A spokesman for Mr. Daschle said the South Dakota agreement was made after months of negotiations with local stakeholders, the Bush administration and environmental groups. Democrats say the Daschle exemption is not a one-size-fits-all solution for the country.
Reaching an agreement on reducing forest fuels is a priority, and Mr. Daschle will propose an agreement, spokesman Jay Carson said.
"Senator Daschle recognizes there are overstocked forests that need to be thinned, especially near those heavily populated areas," Mr. Carson said.
"However, thinning projects that are not the result of broad-based negotiations with key stakeholders should not be circumvented," he said.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said it is unlikely the amendment will pass.
"I think it's going to be very hard. They have tried for a week and they have not gotten anything," said Mr. Reid.
Mr. Daschle included exemptions from environmental regulations and lawsuits for the timber project in a defense spending bill, which was first reported by The Washington Times.
Environmentalists endorsed Mr. Daschle's overall proposal for the Black Hills timber sale because it also protected thousands of acres in a wilderness area, but they objected to the exemptions.
Environmentalists say the Republican measure is a "sham" that would not reduce wildfires.
"This amendment strikes down a core principle of our democracy the right of Americans to seek redress in the courts for grievances involving the federal government," said a statement from 20 green groups, including the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society.
Republicans were initially angry about the exemption, but then endorsed the proposal and asked for the same terms in their states.
"We said, 'Thank you, Mr. Majority Leader, you really did for us what ought to be done except that you only did it for your state,'" said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, New Mexico Republican.
Mr. Craig said the amendment would allow thinning of fuels in 10 million acres of more than 33 million acres listed as in danger of catastrophic fire. No old-growth trees would be affected, and no new roads would be constructed.
"I am willing to protect old growth, and they are willing to let it burn up in the name of doing nothing," Mr. Craig said.
During this fire season, 6 million acres have burned, 28 persons have been killed and 2,300 homes have been destroyed.
"What is most troubling to me is we are seeing the results of frivolous appeals and putting [agencies] under such constant reviews they cannot manage with any common sense," said Sen. Conrad Burns, Montana Republican.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, said "senseless bureaucratic delays" are backing up timber projects by six years.
"We must not fiddle while our forests burn," said Sen. Wayne Allard, Colorado Republican.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, blamed the delays on "extreme environmentalists," who another Republican senator said have the support of the Democratic Party.
"The radical side of the environmental movement has clearly become their constituency, and in this instance, tragically so," Mr. Hatch said.

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