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Context of 'May 21, 2003: New Law Allows Timber Industry Access to Millions of Acres'

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On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration’s disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” Bush does not mention the issue of clean water. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003; US President, 2/3/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [US Department of the Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003] facilitating the timber industry’s access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry’s subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McInnis, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher’s status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species’ population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration’s forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Fish and Wildlife Service

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

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