At approximately 5:00 pm on Tuesday, October 15, students at Lewis and Clark College dropped a 25-foot banner reading "Don't Blame Forest Fires: Logging Destroys Forests" in protest of proposed U.S. Forest Service policies that would accelerate logging on public land. Four students climbed to the roof of the Templeton Student Center and unfurled the banner after Department of Agriculture Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Merlin E. Bartz finished his presentation as a panelist at the college's annual Environmental Studies Symposium.
"We're here to say that we don't support increased extraction of the remaining old growth in America under the guise of fire prevention" stated Rob Hopkinson, a student protester. Julie Engle, another student, said that "The Forest Service needs to listen to its own scientists, who have found that increasing logging actually increases fire danger. The proposed logging increases will heighten the danger of catastrophic fire for ecosystems and people." Paul Saunders, a junior, said he was "outraged at the blatant attempts of my government to use this fire season as an excuse to increase the logging of old-growth timber, while completely removing all environmental regulations and mechanisms for public regulation. Ludicrous."
Since President Bush took office, the Forest Service has sought to undermine environmental regulations. Using this summer's fires as justification for policy changes, the timber industry, the administration, and pro-timber legislators have been moving for increased extraction from public lands. As part of a two-prong assault on environmental regulations, Undersecretary of Agriculture Mark Rey has said that the Forest Service will use categorical exclusion of fire thinning timber sales to expedite logging. Categorical exclusion removes the requirement that the Forest Service examine such sales' environmental impact, and prevents citizens from appealing Forest Service decisions. Forest supervisors will also be able to change Forest Management Plans without public comment or review.
The other assault on public lands comes from timber-sympathetic legilators, specifically Rep. Greg Walden (D-OR) and Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO), who recently introduced H.R. 5319 into the House. This bill would undermine the National Environmental Policy Act, and limit timelines for appeals and judicial review. H.R. 5319 passed the House Resources Committee last week and could see a vote in front of the House as soon as this week.