In an incident involving the management of national forests, the Bush administration created a five-person “review team” made up of predominantly nonscientists70 who proceeded to overrule a $12 million science-based plan for managing old-growth forest habitat and reducing the risk of fire in 11 national forests. This so-called Sierra Nevada Framework, which was adopted by the Clinton administration in 2001 after nine years of research by more than 100 scientists from the Forest Service and academia, had been viewed by the experts who reviewed it as an exemplary use of credible science in forest policy.71
The Bush administration’s proposed changes to the plan include harvesting more of the largest trees, which may double or triple harvest levels over the first 10 years of the plan.72 Other changes call for relaxing restrictions on cattle grazing in some areas where the original plan significantly reduced grazing due to the potentially critical impact on sensitive species.
Forest Service officials justified these changes in part by stating that the original plan relies too much on prescribed burning and would fail to “effectively protect the general forest areas from fire.”73 Contrary to Forest Service claims that their recommendations are based on “new information and findings,” the proposed revisions appear to lack any scientific basis.74 In fact, a scientific review panel put together by the Forest Service found that the revisions failed to consider key scientific information regarding fire, impacts on forest health, and endangered species.75
70 Author interviews with Jay Watson, former regional director of the Wilderness Society, February 2004, and Emily Roberson, California Native Plant Society, October 2003. See also www.cnps.org/federalissues/PDFs/CAScientistLetter.pdf
71 U.S. Forest Service. September 2003. Science Consistency Review Report, Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement,Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement,Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment.
72 U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region. March 18, 2003. Press release, “Top Forest Service Offi cial in State Accepts Sierra Nevada Review Recommendation, Starts Environmental Analysis Process.” Estimates of the timber harvest for the fi rst decade under the revised plan are 448 million board feet, whereas the timber harvest under the original plan was estimated at 157 million board feet. The difference is due to a relaxation of the rules regarding the diameter of harvestable trees, from 20 inches under the original plan to 30 inches under the proposed revisions.
73 Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Jack Blackwell, as quoted in U.S. Forest Service press release, March 18, 2003.
74 U.S. Forest Service, Pacifi c Southwest Division, June 2003. Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment.
75 U.S. Forest Service. September 2003. Science Consistency Review Report, Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment.