Bush Proposes “Charter Forests,” by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: President Bush has proposed a new pilot program called “charter forests” in his 2003 budget. This proposal is not clearly defined yet but the budget does propose to “establish certain forests or portions of forests as separate entities outside the Forest Service structure that report to a local trust entity for oversight.” The goals stated are to “emphasiz[e] local involvement and focu[s] upon more forest ecological restoration or hazardous fuels reductions.”

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: Kudos to President Bush and his advisors for taking this first step in trying to give residents more local control of our forests.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: As a result of the last two seasons of catastrophic wild fires, which needlessly consumed millions of acres, it has become apparent that a change is needed in how our federal forests are managed. A new management system that involves more local input is certainly welcome.

DISCUSSION: Any such charter or pilot program would still require the forests to be subject to all federal environmental rules and regulations. Congress will also have to approve such a program.

The President’s proposed budget states, “Like charter or magnet schools, this proposed structure would avoid the central bureaucracy and thereby reduce organizational inefficiencies, while emphasizing local involvement, and focusing upon specific programmatic goals such as forest ecological restoration or hazardous fuels reductions.”

The President’s proposed 2003 budget for the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a section entitled, “Restructure the Forest Service to Improve Performance” which refers to charter forests. It can be viewed at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2003/bud10.html.

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