Bush cuts red tape with eye on trees | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Bush cuts red tape with eye on trees

Gregory Crofton, Tribune staff reporter

Forest policy changes proposed by the Bush administration would reduce analysis paralysis caused by exhaustive environmental studies, U.S. Forest Service officials say.

But environmental groups contend the changes would be detrimental to wildlife, water quality, ecological health and limit public involvement on forest management issues.

“Of all the environmental rollbacks we’ve seen thus far from this administration, this could be the most destructive,” said Jason Swartz, public lands expert at the California Wilderness Coalition. “Essentially this proposal reduces the public’s ability to participate by allowing all decisions to be made by the forest manager.”

The changes — a reversal of Clinton administration forest policies — are expected to go out for 90-days of public comment starting this week. If approved, the Forest Service estimates it would save 30 cents on the dollar and be able to put that money toward projects on the ground.

The Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, one of the 155 national forests in the country, would directly be affected because the new rules would allow it to revise its forest plan more quickly, said Matt Mathes, U.S. Forest Service spokesman.

“The LTBMU is scheduled to have its forest plan revised starting in 2004,” Mathes said. “Under the current rules a revision of a forest plan takes four years. Under the proposed plan, it would take two to three years.”

The Forest Service planning processes have worked against the agency, he said.

“This is partly something we’ve done to ourselves,” Mathes said. “Our planning process (is) lengthy and somewhat bureaucratic and that has prevented us from getting good work done on the ground.”

In August, the Forest Service released a fuels review report on the Lake Tahoe Basin. It stated that more than 90 percent of land where urban areas meet the forest contain too much wood.

The fuel review report requested the forest managers at the basin create an action plan to better deal with the problem. A final draft of the plan is being reviewed by Forest Service officials now, said Rex Norman, spokesman for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

The plan, which has not yet been released to the public, will list specific ways to increase the effectiveness of its hazard fuels reduction work, Norman said.

The action plan is also expected to include ways to:

n track progress on projects

n streamline processes

n better coordinate with other basin agencies

n enhance public awareness.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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