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Old 12-05-2003, 12:44 PM
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Default A Letter and an Editorial



Clear-cuts don't save forests


Your article, "Debate will begin today on GOP plan for forest health" (April
30), which discussed the "Healthy Forest Restoration Act," shines a light on
the disconnect between the bill's name and its meaning.

The bill would allow for 1,000-acre clear-cuts. Are we to believe that
1,000-acre clear-cuts are the key to achieving healthy forests?

As illogical as Rep. Greg Walden's bill is in its use of clear-cuts for forest
health, it also goes beyond that to reduce the risk of forest fire. The bill
identifies areas at "high risk of fire" locations that receive 160 inches of
rain per year. That's more than double the combined annual rainfall of Portland
and Seattle. Are we to believe that places receiving 160 inches of rain each
year are at a high risk of fire?

I don't want any more 1,000-acre clear-cuts in Oregon.

DAVID WILKINS Oregon Natural Resources Council North Portland


Wrongheaded on wildfires


AST YEAR the Western Governors Association, concerned about damaging wildfires
in the region, put together a 10-year plan for dealing with them. Sensibly, its
major goals focused on protecting life and property by thinning trees and
underbrush around houses and protecting watersheds. This approach is quite
different from the one now favored by the Bush administration, which wants to
use the threat of wildfires as an excuse to invite timber companies to cut down
valuable old-growth trees in remote areas. As a quid pro quo, the companies
would also do some removal of the wildfire fuel -- underbrush and smaller trees
-- in those areas.

This policy of saving the forest by destroying the trees would help line the
pockets of timber companies, but it would do little to protect against the
fires that are most dangerous to the public. Moreover, the administration's
approach, reflected in a bill sponsored by Representative Scott McInnis of
Colorado, sets a perilous precedent of short-circuiting the environmental
review and appeals process. The use of this process by environmentalist
opponents of timber cutting has been blamed for stalling high-priority fuel
reduction projects, but two studies, one by the Genral Accounting Office and
another by Northern Arizona University, cast doubt on that contention.

No one disputes that the West faces a major risk of wildfires each summer. A
wrongheaded and nearly century-long policy of suppressing fires, which was not
reversed until the 1990s, created a dangerous buildup of fuel in the woods. The
region is also in the fourth year of a severe drought. Sprawl development
around big cities and second home projects in scenic mountain areas have pushed
more homes into the ''wildlife urban interface,'' where uncontrolled fires
ignite houses and put both residents and firefighters at risk.

A bill sponsored by two of Congress's experts on forestry would give priority
to community protection zones. This proposal, from George Miller of California
and Peter DeFazio of Oregon, would provide fire prevention grants to
communities based in part on their willingness to take such common-sense
measures as requiring nonflammable roofs on dwellings. Unlike the McInnis bill,
this one preserves environmental laws and regulations.

Both Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman
signed on to the Western Governors Association's wildfire plan before the
administration began promoting the wildfire issue as a way to open up
old-growth areas for industry cutting. There is a strong consensus among many
state and local officials and environmental organizations in favor of reducing
wildfires by thinning around communities and watersheds. The country can do
that without torching its environmental laws.

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