Fire Sale in the Forests
The Bush administration has been having a tough time selling the nation's governors on its misguided decision to stop protecting nearly 60 million acres of roadless national forest from new logging and development. Thanks to the administration's own missteps, that task just got tougher.
Rescinding the "roadless rule" imposed by President Bill Clinton in 2001 was the centerpiece of a broader administration strategy to make things easier for the timber industry by rolling back an array of environmental protections. Claiming that the governors had not been properly consulted in 2001, the Forest Service proposed a new rule that invited states to make recommendations about which roadless areas should be protected but left the final determination to Washington.
The administration also promised — including in a letter to The Times last year from Mark Rey, the new policy's main architect — that it would provide "interim protection" to all roadless areas until the governors had submitted their plans.
The administration broke that promise earlier this month when it took bids on a logging project in Oregon's Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, despite Gov. Theodore Kulongoski's repeated and urgent pleas to leave the forest alone. Mr. Rey's underlings defend the sale as a necessary salvage and cleanup operation in a forest badly damaged by wildfire in 2002. Leaving aside the question of whether burned forests should be logged or allowed to regenerate — a matter of scientific dispute — this was a highhanded gesture that can only generate ill will.
Which is the last thing Mr. Rey needs. California, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington State have gone to court to restore the Clinton plan, arguing that the Bush rule gives lip service to states' rights while opening the door to excessive logging and destruction of important watersheds. Several other states have told Washington that they want all their roadless acreage protected, as it was by the Clinton rule.
Mr. Rey, a wily veteran of the timber wars not previously known for shooting himself in the foot, would be well advised to reconsider his strategy, beginning with a cancellation of the Oregon sale.