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GOP plans to revise species protections

GOP plans to revise species protections

Congressional Republicans map a limited forestry agenda and changes in the Endangered Species Act
Friday, November 12, 2004

WASHINGTON -- Despite winning the White House and bigger majorities in Congress, Republicans have mapped out a limited agenda of forestry legislation for the 109th Congress, but they do plan changes to the Endangered Species Act.

The top priority for the second Bush administration will be implementing the Healthy Forests Restoration Act and treating fire-prone timberlands, Mark Rey, undersecretary of agriculture, said in an interview Thursday.

With money from the 2003 law, federal land managers have increased forest-thinning projects to 4 million acres a year, he said. They hope to boost the rate to 8 million acres a year and ultimately hope to treat a total of 90 million acres.

"If we can get to the point where we are treating 8 to 9 million acres a year, we're looking at a problem we can resolve in about nine years or 10 years time," Rey said. "And that's what we think the right profile for this is."

Republicans in Congress have more ambitious goals. The House Resources Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., plans to take up a series of bills intended to make the endangered species law more "usable," an aide said.

"We'll be trying to move a lot of legislation," said Doug Crandall, a committee staffer. "I wouldn't say major reforms, but I would say a lot of bills that focus on a lot of little problems in the law that makes it difficult to manage forests."

Among the measures to be considered by the Resources Committee is a plan by Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., to create a panel of scientists to review data that regulators use to design plans to protect endangered species.

Other forestry proposals include: Incentives for commercial use of brush and small trees -- also called "biomass" -- cleared from overgrown forests. More aggressive efforts to restore timberlands after catastrophic fires. Opening federal lands for recreational uses.

Sean Cosgrove, a forestry expert with the Sierra Club, said environmental groups plan to keep a close eye on the committee. If not carefully crafted, some proposals before the committee could be abused by timber companies, he said.

Biomass incentives, for example, should specify clearly the maximum sizes of cleared trees and should target overgrown forests that threaten communities, Cosgrove said.

"It's all in how you do it and where you get the material from," he said.

Despite a Republican gain of four seats in the Senate in the Nov. 2 election, Rey said he does not expect an easier path for legislation that streamlines regulations governing management or harvest of federal timberlands.

"From our standpoint, it's better to have a larger margin," Rey said. "But I don't know that the margins have changed so significantly that it's going to be dramatically different in that regard."

Environmental advocates also are braced for the administration to release a less-restrictive version of the Clinton administration's 2001 "roadless" rule. The rule prohibited additional road building and logging in 58.5 million acres of remote, "roadless" forests.

Jim Barnett: 503-294-7604; jim.barnett@newhouse.com


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