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The Bush administration's environmental record: Timber industry

 
  

Project: The Bush administration's environmental record

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(Between 2001 and 2002)

       Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey's office orders employees of the Forest Service's Content Analysis Team (CAT) to downplay the public's feelings towards the Roadless Rule in a report the team is preparing for policy decision-makers. The office also instructs them not to mention how many people have sent in comments on the issue. A memo is later distributed to the team's employees setting the limits on what they are permitted to say in the report. It instructs them to “avoid any emphasis on conflict or opposition and also avoid any appearance of measuring the ‘ote’ highlighting areas of conflict [because it] serves no good purpose in dealing with the issues or interests, and may only exacerbate the problems.” The memo even provides explicit instructions on what words the CAT team can and cannot use. Among the list of banned terms are: many, most, oppose, support, impacts and clear cuts. Words that the memo suggests using instead include: some, state, comment, effects and even-aged management. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Mark E. Rey, Content Analysis Team (CAT), US Forest Service (USFS)
          

January 14, 2002

       EPA staffers meet with the agency's top pollution regulator, Jeffrey Holmstead, in his fifth-floor conference room to discuss a February 2004 deadline for creating a rule governing formaldehyde emissions at wood products plants. Holmstead, a lawyer, formerly worked at Latham & Watkins representing one of the nation's largest plywood producers. Also present at the meeting is William Wehrum, the EPA air office's general counsel, who had also represented timber interests as a partner of the same law firm. They meet with Timothy Hunt, a lobbyist for the American Forest & Paper Association who is an old acquaintance of Holmstead, and with Claudia M. O'Brien, the association's lawyer. O'Brien had previously been a law partner of Holmstead's and Wehrum's at Latham & Watkins. During the meeting she proposes to exempt “low-risk” plywood, particleboard and other plants from strict emission controls, arguing that such facilities are often located in isolated areas where their emissions pose a relatively small risk to public health. She also contends that the expense of adding new controls to the plants, which the industry complains could cost as much as $1 billion, would make them vulnerable to foreign competition. Holmstead likes the idea and decides that the agency should push the proposal, despite opinions from EPA career attorneys that the exemption would violate the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments (see March 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Claudia M. O'Brien, William Wehrum, Jeffrey Holmstead, Timothy Hunt
          

November 27, 2002

       On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] The proposal closely follows the timber industry's wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest, 11/27/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS)  Additional Info 
          

December 11, 2002

       Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration's “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; US Department of Agriculture, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration's typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn't like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Gale A. Norton, George W. Bush, Ann M. Veneman, James L. Connaughton  Additional Info 
          

January 3, 2003

       The Forest Service proposes a new rule that would create three new categories of timber sales exempt from National Environmental Policy Act requirements for environmental review and public input. The three new “categorical exclusions” —exemptions meant for activities that do not effect the environment—would apply to (1) “Low-impact silvicultural treatments involving harvest of live trees”; (2) “Harvest of dead/dying trees”; and (3) “Harvest of live, dead, or dying trees necessary to control insect and disease.” Though the Forest Service states that these activities do not have a significant effect on the environment, the rule would allow the constructions of roads through federally protected forests up to half a mile long. It would apply to more than 150 pending logging projects. [US Forest Service, 1/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 4/2004, pgs 17-18; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Wilderness Society, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS)  Additional Info 
          

January 28, 2003

       The President delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration's disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” The President does not mention the issue of clean water. [League of Conservation Voters, n.d.; Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003 Sources: 2003 State of the Union Address]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush  Additional Info 
          

March 2003

       Forest Service officials inform employees of the agency's Content Analysis Team (CAT) that the work they are doing will be outsourced to the private sector. The management team will remain, but the content analysis work will be farmed out to contract consultants. This decision is made despite the department's reputation for remarkable efficiency. In October 2002, a study commissioned by Yosemite National Park had praised CAT saying it had a “track record ... [un]equaled by any other organized process.” (see October 2002). A study three months later will conclude that outsourcing will actually cost the agency more (see June 2004). [Missoulian, 11/15/2003; Associated Press, 11/14/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Content Analysis Team (CAT), US Forest Service (USFS)
          

April 11, 2003

       The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management's policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit's status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake City Tribune, 4/20/2003; The Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004; Salt Lake City Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake City Tribune, 6/18/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Mike Leavitt, Gale A. Norton, US Department of Interior, Bush administration
          

May 21, 2003

       The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration's “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [Department of Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “ ‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] facilitating the timber industry's access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry's subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Scott McInnis
          

(Late 2003)

       US Forest Service officials remove Michael Gertsch, a Forest Service wildlife biologist since 1976, from a team of scientists working on an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan after he repeatedly complains that the agency is misrepresenting the impact of forest fires on owl populations, which are dependent on old stands of trees. “I fought and fought and fought and fought and finally they used some excuse and removed me from the team,” he later tells the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Michael Gertsch
          

December 3, 2003

       President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush's “Healthy Forest Initiative” —almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; CNN, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it's not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America's 20 million acres of federal forests. [CNN, 12/4/2003; Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: George W. Bush, US Forest Service (USFS), Bush administration
          

December 23, 2003

       The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post Intelligencer, 12/24/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It's a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that's going to stay that way. We're very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska's governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post Intelligencer, 12/24/2003; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Office of Management and Budget, Department of Agriculture, Bush administration
          

January 22, 2004

       Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ] ... spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004 Sources: Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment]
The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.

The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.

The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.

The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches.
It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion ... was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn't listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment's claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey” (see August 6, 2004).
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Bush administration, Michael Gertsch
          

Late January 2004

       The US Forest Service distributes a pamphlet promoting the agency's amendment (see August 6, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan, which calls for more logging. In one section of the pamphlet, put together by a public relations firm, there is a series of six black-and-white photos taken at different times over a span of 80 years. The first picture, taken in 1909, shows a forested area with large trees spaced far apart. Each of the following pictures, taken at the same spot, show how the forest became denser over time. The photo-chronology suggests that the first picture represents how forests should appear in their natural state. But in Spring 2004, it is learned that the first picture had been taken after the area had been logged. Furthermore, the pictures were actually taken in Montana, not the Sierra Nevadas. It also turns out that the photos had similarly been used before by the agency to promote other forest-thinning initiatives. [Associated Press, 4/12/2004 Sources: USFS, Forests with a Future, 1/2004]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Matt Mathes
          

February 2004

       The Environmental Protection Agency meets its February 27, 2004 deadline to come up with a new federal rule regulating formaldehyde emissions. Ignoring the opinion of experts, the EPA did not take into account the findings of two recent studies that had found that workers who were exposed to formaldehyde were at an elevated risk of leukemia. The EPA said it did not have time to incorporate the two findings before the deadline. Though extensions for such deadlines are often given, the agency did not request one. Instead, the EPA relied on a cancer risk assessment by the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology, a private, nonprofit research organization, funded primarily by chemical companies. That assessment was about 10,000 times weaker than the level previously used by the EPA in setting standards for formaldehyde exposure. The new federal rule is modeled on a proposal that had been designed by a lobbyist for the wood products industry (see January 14, 2002). It creates a new category of “low-risk” plants, which gives the agency the authority to decide on a plant-by-plant basis which facilities pose a risk to public health. It initially exempts eight wood products plants from having to install pollution controls for formaldehyde and other emissions, but could eventually extend the exemptions to 147 or more of the 223 facilities nationwide. The exemption allows qualifying plants to legally skirt pollution-control requirements that had been mandated by a 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requiring all large industrial plants to use “best available” technology in order to reduce emissions of 189 substances. Though backers of the new rule claim that it does not violate the amendment, the lawmakers who wrote the legislation disagree. “I don't have any doubt but that is a way to get around the policy which we worked hard to achieve,” former Sen. David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) will tell the Los Angeles Times in May. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) similarly says the exemption is “directly contrary to our intent.” The new rule will save the industry as much as $66 million annually for about 10 years in potential emission control costs. [Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Henry A. Waxman, David F. Durenberger, Environmental Protection Agency
          

March 23, 2004

       The Oregon and California State Offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Pacific Southwest and Pacific Northwest Regional Offices of the Forest Service jointly announce two changes to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that will reduce federal wildlife protections and lead to increased logging on public lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. The first change drops the “survey and manage” rule, which requires forest managers to search forests for about 300 rare plants and animals not yet listed under the Endangered Species Act prior to the logging of old-growth forests. The Forest Service says that the process is time-consuming and expensive, thus making it difficult for timber companies to meet the maximum, allowable, annual timber harvest level of 800 million board feet a year that is permitted under the Northwest Forest Plan. The US Forest Service estimates that this change will allow the timber industry to log an additional 70 million board feet a year. The second change concerns the plan's Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS), which was created to restore and maintain the ecological health of watersheds and aquatic ecosystems in order to ensure that logging and roadbuilding does not damage salmon bearing watersheds. Instead of requiring that individual logging projects meet all ACS requirements, forest managers will only have to see that the standards are met at the “fifth-field watershed scale,” which usually represents an area of about 20,000 to 100,000 acres. [Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service, 3/23/2004; Oregonian, 3/24/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/25/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, US Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management
          

April 28, 2004

       Federal officials confirm that the Bush administration plans to begin using the population statistics of hatchery-bred fish when considering whether stream-bred wild salmon are entitled to protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The new policy rests on five major points: (1) The genetic resources for protecting salmon populations are present in both hatchery-bred and wild fish; (2) Hatchery-bred fish that are “no more than moderately divergent” genetically from wild fish will be included in the same group known as an Evolutionarily Significant Unit, or ESU; (3) Decisions on whether to protect a specific ESU will be based on the entire population; and (4) ESA protection will be based on abundance, productivity, geographic distribution and genetic diversity. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Associated Press, 4/28/2004] This proposal ignores warnings from six of the world's leading experts on salmon ecology who recently argued in the journal Science that hatchery-bred fish are not as fit as those hatched in the wild and should not be relied upon to protect wild salmon populations. [Hatcheries and Endangered Salmon. Science Magazine. 3/26/2004; The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] The scientists had been part of a panel formed at the request of the administration to determine whether or not there are significant differences between hatchery-bred and wild fish. When the panel concluded that hatchery fish are larger and genetically inferior to wild fish and that they should not be counted upon to help wild salmon populations, the scientists were told that their conclusions were inappropriate for official government reports. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Associated Press, 4/28/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; Seattle-Post Intelligencer, 4/30/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004; League of Conservation Voters, n.d.] One of the panel's scientists, biologist Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says of the administration's response to their work, “Any science that contradicted them was not welcome.” Justifying the panel's conclusions, he explains, “[Y]ou can't replace wild salmon with hatchery salmon. It's like saying Chihuahuas and wolves are the same.” Robert Paine, a biologist at the University of Washington, who also served on the panel, notes: “The current political and legal wrangling is a sideshow to the real issues. The science is clear and unambiguous—as they are currently operated, hatcheries and hatchery fish cannot protect wild stocks.” [Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004] The agricultural, timber and energy industries strongly support the new policy plan, having long complained about the costs of ecosystem-wide modifications that the ESA requires businesses to make to roads, farms and dams to protect the salmon habitats. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004] Salmon protection policies—described as the most expensive and complex of all the endangered species programs—cost roughly $700 million per year. [The Washington Post, 4/29/2004; Sacramento Bee, 5/2/2004; The News Tribune, 5/4/2004] Two weeks later, on May 14, the administration will back away from its proposal. [Seattle Post Intelligencer, 5/15/2004; The Columbian, 5/15/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration
          

July 12, 2004

       Agriculture Secretary Ann Venemana announces the proposal of a new federal rule that would overturn the Roadless Rule introduced by Clinton in January 2001. The Roadless Rule banned the construction of roads in 58.5 million acres, or nearly one-third, of the nation's forests. The administration claims that the motivation behind the new rule is to give states a say in the management of their lands. Under the new rule, state governors would presumably help decide whether areas in their own states should be opened to commercial activity like logging or oil and gas drilling. But for the first 18 months the rule is in effect, the US Forest Service would have the final authority on all decisions. After that, local Forest Service plans, which typically would allow road building and logging on the areas currently designated as roadless, would be reinstated. Governors opposed to any of these plans would have to petition the Agriculture Department in a complicated, two-step process. [San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004 (A); San Francisco Chronicle, 7/13/2004 (B); Salt Lake Tribune, 7/14/2004; The Washington Post, 7/13/2004; Juneau Empire State News, 7/13/2004]
People and organizations involved: Bush administration, Department of Agriculture, Ann Venemana  Additional Info 
          

August 6, 2004

       The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service's amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “At least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey.” The AP's conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service's amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency's policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]
People and organizations involved: US Forest Service (USFS), Matt Mathes  Additional Info 
          


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