“Healthy Forest Initiative” is unhealthy for forest ecosystems

I was driving through areas of Nevada and California still recovering from forest fires that happened years ago when I first heard about President George W. Bush’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” This eco-friendly name is a ploy to boost his ratings with environmentalists, but the bill itself does little to prevent forest fires, instead doing much to exploit our nation’s natural resources.

As Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said in a CNN article, this bill, which has already passed the House and Senate agricultural committees since it was introduced a year ago, is nothing more than “Logging industry greed masquerading as environmental need.” Bush’s latest effort to promote his bill is an attempt to bring his initiative to the Senate floor. If it passes, 20 million acres will be affected and quite possibly destroyed.

Currently, environmental studies must be done before logging projects can go forward on public land. The “Healthy Forests Initiative” will exempt logging projects encompassing up to 1,000 acres each and controlled burn projects encompassing up to 4,500 acres each from environmental impact studies if the projects are ruled to be in areas at risk for fire. These projects could not be challenged through administrative appeals if approved, which would limit public input in environmental decisions. They could be challenged in court, but, with the amount of time it takes cases to wind their way through our nation’s legal system, the damage done by these projects would already be accomplished.

The initiative would increase the National Fire Protection Agency’s budget but would not mandate that this money be spent at the urbanized forest edge. Instead, it would allow logging companies to cut down trees in our national forests hundreds of miles into the forest core, where plant and animal habitats are the most diverse and the most fragile if disturbed by human intrusion.

The Arizona Daily Star reported that local pleas to the federal government for targeted trimming and other fire prevention actions around communities likely to be damaged by forest fires have been ignored. The initiative will promote logging in remote areas where the trees – and logging industry profits – are the biggest, but will do nothing to prevent forest fires in areas where the impact on human habitation is the greatest.

Forest fires are a natural part of the forest ecosystem, responsible for getting rid of excessive ground cover. Forest fires keep forests healthy by allowing new species to introduce themselves, increasing the biodiversity of the ecosystem. It is only when humans insert themselves into forested areas that forest fires become a problem. An initiative that would truly encourage healthy forests would both protect existing human settlements in forested areas from forest fires and discourage future human settlement incursions into wilderness areas.

R.R.S. Stewart is an architecture student minoring in journalism and women’s studies. She can be reached at [email protected]