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Butt out, public.

Byline: The Register Guard

When it comes to planning the future of public lands, the Bush administration is always happy to hear from its friends in the timber, mining, oil and gas industries. But if you're an environmentalist or just an interested member of the general public, well, good luck.

The U.S. Forest Service announced this week that long-term management plans for national forests will be excluded from formal environmental analysis and systematic public input. In other words: "Trust us. We're the federal government."

The administration is an old hand at eliminating environmental reviews to expedite the extraction of natural resources from public lands. Last year, it decided to skip the required analysis of President Bush's repeal of the Clinton-era roadless rule, claiming it had "no direct, indirect or cumulative effect on the environment."

Bush's repeal was as short-lived as it was poorly conceived. Last September, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth LaPorte ruled the administration had failed to conduct the required environmental studies before replacing the immensely popular, sensible and scientifically vetted roadless rule with a jury-rigged process designed to undercut federal protections on up to 60 million acres of national forests.

Now, the Forest Service says it will no longer require that the 15-year management plans for national forests include environmental impact statements. The rationale: Writing the plans has no direct effect on the environment, so there's no need for the impact statements. Besides, timber sales, mining and drilling projects will still be reviewed on an individual basis.

The Bush administration insults the intelligence of the American public with its explanation of this policy change. It's like saying there's no impact to rezoning your neighborhood to allow meat- processing plants, since actual construction is all that ultimately matters.

The final rule issued by the Forest Service categorically excludes future updates or changes to forest management plans from requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. That federal law requires governmental agencies to fully consider environmental impacts and public input before undertaking major actions.

NEPA provides for "categorical exclusions," which allows the federal government to make minor decisions without in-depth analysis. In recent years, the Bush administration has bored away at that loophole like a pine beetle, trying to include everything from toxic waste shipments to oil exploration. Now, it wants to add forest management planning to the list.

The administration's rationale that individual logging, mining and drilling projects will still have to go through the NEPA process is hardly reassuring. After all, it's the management plans that decide what areas of our forests should be set aside for resource extraction - and what areas should be preserved for uses such as wildlife habitat, watershed protection and recreation.

Forest Service officials should review their own mission statement (if they've forgotten it, they can find it at www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/mission .shtml). Under the worthy motto, "Caring for the land and serving people" is a list of key objectives. The second item on the list: "Listening to people and responding to their diverse needs in making decisions."
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Title Annotation:Editorials; New policy excludes forest plans from NEPA
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 16, 2006
Words:507
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