Thursday, December 23, 2004

Bush relaxes forest wildlife protection

Bush relaxes forest wildlife protection
New rules immediately come under attack by environmentalists
Replacing rules written by the Reagan administration to govern national forest plans, the Bush administration has adopted sweeping new regulations that relax protections for wildlife and eliminate a requirement for the public to weigh in on mining, logging and other activities.
The new rules covering more than 191 million acres -- including more than one-fifth of Washington -- undo an obligation at the heart of the battles over Pacific Northwest old-growth forests and spotted owls: that federal managers "maintain viable populations" of wild animals in national forests.
Unveiled yesterday to criticism by environmentalists but approval by the timber industry, the new rules also allow forest supervisors to skip a complicated "environmental impact statement" providing a detailed look at different options for managing a forest. Instead, forest managers gain more discretion to simply pick the plan they think is best.
Bush administration officials portrayed the changes as a way to fix a forest-planning system that has grown unwieldy and bureaucratic to the point of irrelevance, provoking an endless stream of court battles....