White House Forest Fire Plan Will Increase Risk of Fire, Says NRDC

Group Blasts Administration for Yet Another Attack on Public Rights and Environment

WASHINGTON (May 30, 2003) -- The Bush administration announced its latest attack on public participation and environmental values this afternoon, as part of its misnamed "Healthy Forests Initiative," according to NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The national environmental group says the White House plan uses fictitious problems and ignores science in eliminating environmental review for a huge category of logging projects, while leaving homes and communities exposed to fire risk and damaging public forestlands.

"This clears the way for the timber industry and its friends in government to loot public forests and pocket the proceeds, free from public input or environmental review," said Amy Mall, a forest and land specialist at NRDC. "Make no mistake -- this is not about healthy forests. It's about healthy profits for campaign contributors and healthy budgets for bureaucrats."

Mall said the rules announced today promote logging of medium and large trees far away from where fires threaten people and homes by ending public environmental review and public appeal rights for timber sales on tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of acres of federal forests. She added that federal agencies have ample existing authority to do what Forest Service science has shown is the best way to protect homes and communities from wildfires -- remove small trees and underbrush and thin the areas right around homes.

Studies have shown that logging larger trees not only threatens water quality, fish and wildlife and forest health, but also can increase fire risks. For example, a November 2000 report by the U.S. Forest Service concluded that "timber harvest can sometimes elevate fire hazard by increasing dead-ground fuel, removing larger fire-resistant trees, and leaving an understory of ladder fuels."

"Giving the U.S. Forest Service carte blanche to log wherever it sees fire risks is like putting the North Koreans in charge of nuclear safety," said Mall. "First, because heightened fire risk in federal forests is a direct result of 90 years of Forest Service mismanagement. Second, because unrestrained thinning of forests far away from communities and homes is at best a waste of scarce fire-risk reduction resources and dollars - and may even increase fire risk. And third, because the Forest Service has spent the last two years lying to Congress and the media that appeals and litigation hamper efforts to reduce threats to homes, communities and forests. They don't."

A report this month by the General Accounting Office (GAO) completely discredits the fundamental premise of the Bush fire plan, according to NRDC. The administration claims that it needs to expedite thinning projects because the public's right to review and appeal logging plans is interfering with fire prevention. But the GAO report shows that 95 percent of thinning projects move forward quickly. The government's own data reveal that only 7 percent of the projects identified as hazardous fuels reduction projects are appealed at all, with only three-tenths of 1 percent going to court.

"It's indefensible to defy science like this, to cut out the public, and to log the back woods instead of working in and around communities," said Mall. "This initiative is certainly not about protecting homes and communities from fire, because no one could ask for more latitude to do that than federal agencies already have."

For additional background on wildfires in Western forests, visit the NRDC website.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.