Bush To Overhaul Forest Act

President Bush, logging in national forests.
The Bush administration, brushing aside concerns from environmentalists, is pushing forward with plans to give national forest managers more flexibility to approve logging and commercial activities, with less environmental review.

The final forest management rules will be reviewed by the White House's Office of Management and Budget before going into effect this fall. A draft was obtained by The Associated Press.

The new rules would overhaul the landmark 1976 National Forest Management Act, which sets the basic rules for management of the nation's 155 national forests and protects forest wildlife.

Officials say the new rules are designed to make forest management more responsive to changing conditions by eliminating unnecessary paperwork and relying on assessments by managers assigned to protect some 190 million acres of forests and grasslands.

Environmentalists have accused the administration of trying to increase logging while weakening standards for protecting endangered or threatened species.

The final rules would leave intact some of the most controversial proposals from a draft plan released last November. Like the draft, the final plan would give regional managers of the Forest Service more discretion to approve logging, drilling and mining operations without having to conduct formal scientific investigations known as environmental impact statements.

Such analyses, which outline the impact of a proposed activity on plant and animal life, can take years to complete. The new rules envision a more flexible approach that could be completed in months.

The new rules also offer less emphasis on wildlife preservation and other environmental concerns when deciding how much logging or recreation to allow on federal land.

"The final rule strengthens the ability of the Forest Service to respond quickly to a variety of continually changing issues, such as the development of new science information, new listing of (endangered) species, wildfire effects, changes in demographics or the economy and unforeseen effects" of existing forest rules, the draft copy says.

Forest Service officials have said land management plans for each forest or grassland now typically take up to seven years to complete because of requirements for detailed scientific studies and other paperwork. Officials estimate that the Forest Service could save as much as 30 percent under the new approach.

By Matthew Daly