Rey: Bush Administration Wantsby Associated Press
COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- The Bush administration plans to double efforts to thin fire-prone Western forests and will emphasize the cutting of trees that can be sold to help pay for the work, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said.
Along with increased thinning, the administration wants to reform the Endangered Species Act, streamline national forest management and give states more power in managing roadless areas, said Rey, who directs the nation's forest policy.
But Rey, speaking at the annual meeting of the Intermountain Forest Association, did not offer any details on exactly what type of Endangered Species Act reforms the president would support. Last week the administration proposed cutting 80 percent of the federally designated critical habitat for threatened and endangered salmon in the Northwest.
"We're going to be active," Rey told the private gathering of about 75 Idaho political leaders and timber company officials. "We're nowhere near the end of what we want to do."
Congress will also likely attempt again to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Rey said.
He expects the efforts to spark lawsuits and strong opposition from Democrats and environmental groups. The Bush administration has already been sued on many of its environmental initiatives, and Rey joked that he holds the "indoor world record on being named a defendant in environmental litigation."
The administration's proposal to update the national forest management planning process will be unveiled by the end of December, Rey said. He did not offer specifics but said the reforms would include substantial cost savings on planning and analysis.
Since Bush took office in 2000, there has been a fourfold increase in the amount of national forest acreage treated to prevent wildfire. Last year about 4 million acres were treated with prescription burning or mechanical thinning, and the president wants to double that amount over the next couple of years, Rey said.
A majority of the thinned trees will be sold to sawmills, fuel pellet plants or biomass electricity generators, Rey said. The sales are expected to help fund the thinning project.
"The converse is to waste it, which it seems to me is the antithesis of conservation," he said. "We're not in the business of wasting resources. We're in the business of conserving."
The idea makes sense, said state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who also works as executive director of Associated Logging Contractors.
"Our timber businesses have a role to play in assisting the Forest Service in restoring forest health," she said.
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