Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Healthy Forests?

In what has become an all too familiar refrain, the Bush administration is once again putting forth a measure that will further weaken the nation's environmental protections. From the folks that brought us the "Healthy Forests" initiative, an Orwellian entitled program that opened up previously pristine national forests to logging interests, is now proposing to make that logging, mining and development easier by relaxing restrictions on building roads in national parks, a prerequisite for many industrial operations.

As reported in today's New York Times: "The Bush administration on Monday proposed scuttling a rule from the Clinton administration that put nearly 60 million acres of national forest largely off limits to logging, mining or other development in favor of a new system that would leave it to governors to seek greater - or fewer - strictures on road construction in forests...

Ms. Veneman's announcement was a signature moment for the Bush administration's environmental policy. After three years of gradually retreating from Mr. Clinton's sweeping preservationist rule, which covered about 30 percent of the 191 million acres of national forest and was embraced by environmentalists, the administration is decisively rejecting it and substituting a process that makes state officials the moving force in deciding whether to log or to conserve forest lands."

This policy has further alienated a traditional bloc of Republican voters that have been described as the "hook and bullet" Republicans. This group of hunters, anglers and outdoorsman are often aligned with the NRA and traditionally support Republican candidates. The extreme anti-environmentalist agenda of the Bush administration has pushed many in this constituency to consider supporting John Kerry come November.

The Times article touched on one aspect of this emerging trend. "The announcement Monday also reflected the administration's willingness to break with allies in the conservation field. Jim Range, a former senior Republican Congressional staff member who in 2001 helped establish the Forest Road Working Group to advise the administration on the issue, issued a statement saying that the loss of the protections was a disappointment.

'The current regulation established an important degree of certain protection to these valuable areas, which provide important fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for American hunters, anglers, campers, hikers and others,' Mr. Range, who is also chairman of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, said."

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