Senate Continues to Bicker Over Forest Health Amendment, by Gretchen Randall

BACKGROUND: Democrats and Republicans in the Senate continue to disagree on details of an amendment to the Department of Interior appropriations bill that would allow thinning of forests in insect-infested trees and in areas near homes and communities. The main disagreements are over the number of acres to be exempt from normal regulatory appeals and whether to exempt them from legal challenges — fire prevention strategies that were accorded to South Dakota in an earlier bill.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE (Option 1): Again, it seems that Democrats and environmentalists would rather see forests burn than be managed effectively.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE (Option 2): If exemptions from judicial review are OK for South Dakota’s forest maintenance, why not for the rest of our forests?

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Wildlife biologists estimate 46 species of birds are harmed by the lack of effective forest management. In addition, millions of acres are lost to super hot ground-sterilizing wildfires every year. Thinning trees of all ages is essential to saving our forests. Let’s let the forest management experts manage the forests and eliminate the temptation to be “Monday morning quarterbacks.”

DISCUSSION: The Republican amendment introduced by Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) is modeled after the exemption Senator Daschle (D-SD) received for the Black Hills National Forest in his home state of South Dakota. To date 65,000 fires have burned 6.5 million acres across the nation this year and Craig’s amendment would allow thinning of trees in 10 million of the 33 million acres the Forest Service says are in most danger of catastrophic fires. Senate Democrats have not agreed to allow the rest of the nation’s forests the same exemptions from judicial review that South Dakota received.

President Bush has said, “We have a simple choice. We can act now to protect these forests or we can stand by and watch them burn.”

Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, noted in a recent editorial the negative effects of overcrowded forests on wildlife pointing out that in the recent Biscuit Fire in Oregon 125,000 acres of habitat for the threatened northern spotted owl were destroyed (Washington Post, Sept. 17, 2002).

FOR MORE INFORMATION: More facts on our nation’s forests are available from The National Center’s Forest Policy Information Center at

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