BUSH FOREST REP PLEDGES STREAMLINED REGULATIONS

May 10, 2002 12:00 am
Jack's back: Former U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas, left, talks with Ken Evans, a forestry consultant from John Day, center, and Vince Naughton of La Grande, an ex-logging manager at Boise Cascade, Thursday at the Oregon Society of American Foresters annual meeting in La Grande. (The Observer/Phil Bullock).
Jack's back: Former U.S. Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas, left, talks with Ken Evans, a forestry consultant from John Day, center, and Vince Naughton of La Grande, an ex-logging manager at Boise Cascade, Thursday at the Oregon Society of American Foresters annual meeting in La Grande. (The Observer/Phil Bullock).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Money to fight wildfires, conserve private forest lands and research biomass development will be coupled with streamlined regulations in the Bush administration.

So promised Merlin Bartz, an assistant to Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment. Bartz spoke Thursday to the Oregon Society of American Foresters in La Grande.

Rey was unable to attend the La Grande meeting because of business in Washington, D.C. The foresters were having their two-day annual convention at the National Guard Armory-Blue Mountain Convention Center.

Bartz, who covered a wide range of topics during his talk, said the implementation of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule approved during the Clinton administration "ignored the legal and democratic due process."

An Idaho District Court has ruled against the roadless plan, stopping its implementation. The White House is waiting for a decision from the court of appeals, Bartz said.

About "28,000 acres of non-Forest Service public lands would have been affected" under the roadless rule, he said. "No evidence to suggest that any of the landowners of these properties were notified of the policy and its consequences exists."

After the roadless rule moves through the courts, Bartz said that the administration "will work with states, tribes, local communities and the public through a process that is fair, open and responsive to local input and

information."

Addressing another issue, Bartz said the Farm Bill, which passed the Senate Wednesday and is headed for the president's desk, carries $100 million to help private forest landowners manage their property.

"A cost share of up to 75 percent will go far in maintaining one of our largest natural resources, the 350 million acres of non-industrial private forests," he said.

Biomass research and development will receive $5 million for the current fiscal year and $70 million for the 2003-07 fiscal years.

The biomass program will provide "new uses for agricultural and forestry resources," he said.

The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Interior are cooperating through the National Fire Plan to pay for the treatment of 2.25 million acres for hazardous fuel, as well as treating 1.6 million acres for noxious weeds and other invasive plants that often come after a fire, he said.

Fire plan funding has added 6,000 wildland firefighters and bought more than 600 new pieces of equipment, he said.

"Short term, with the fire season upon us, we may face early tests as to our resolve and commitment," Bartz said.

Discussing the rules that govern the Endangered Species Act, Bartz said the Bush administration hopes to update and streamline the process. A task force of agency representatives will study the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and address several issues, including a list of "best practices." After guidelines are established, the task force will help draft modifications to "modernize NEPA practices," and will help develop "a much needed updated template to streamline the process."

Discussion with states, tribes and local governments is also planned, he said.

Bartz said he has "no specifics" about the task force.