Bush backs faster forest thinning

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By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER

With a scorched mountain peak as his backdrop, President Bush unveiled his plan Thursday to allow loggers to start work sooner on approved national forest logging projects.

"We need to understand, if you let kindling build up, and there's a lightning strike, you're going to get yourself a big fire," Bush said during a speech in Central Point, Ore..

Bush's plan Healthy Forests: An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities proposes ways to streamline the administrative process that forest thinning projects must undergo before any logger enters the woods.

"It calls upon a philosophical change and calls about things we believe need to be done for implementing forest health and conservation matters," said White House spokesman Ken Lisaius.

Bush's plan directs Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman, Interior Secretary Gayle Norton, and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton to "improve regulatory processes to ensure more timely decisions, greater efficiency and better results in reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfires by restoring forest health."

The plan also states that Bush will work with Congress to pass legislation striving toward these same goals.

The Healthy Forests Initiative lacks a timeline and source of funding. But when asked if the federal government has the dollars to back this project, Bush responded, "If we don't, we'll deal with it."

Matt Mathes, representative for Region 5 of the U.S. Forest Service, which includes all 18 national forests in California, said "there's clearly some work ahead for all of us, but this is a good announcement in giving the problem some visibility and setting up some concrete steps to move us ahead to where we need to be."

"Part of the problem is within our own agency," Mathes said. "Our planning processes are very elaborate and complex and time consuming."

Local environmentalists said that, while thinning definitely needs to occur, Bush's statements that strongly support the timber industry including a comment that the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan would produce one billion board feet of wood each year and create 100,000 jobs will alienate many conservation groups who need to work with industry to solve the problem.

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