Two days before Christmas, and the Bush Administration has quietly pushed through the most radical changes to National Forest preservation laws since before President Reagan was in office.
According to the Washington Post, “the new rules give economic activity equal priority with preserving the ecological health of the forests …”
A leading purpose of National Forests was to preserve land and prevent the unmitigated spread of development. Now, it’s open season for any company that sees economic benefit to exploiting National Forest land — land which belongs to the public.
The Bush Administration’s new rules drastically streamline the process for zoning forest land for economic development. For example, according to the Post, environmental impact analyses will no longer be required, and the public will no longer have the opportunity to comment on individual projects.
Timber companies stand to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new rules, although some employees of the National Forest Service indicate that the new rules will allow them to spend more time addressing issues such as off-road vehicles and forest overgrowth.
The Post reports that President Clinton finalized a set of regulations that emphasized ecosystem health and wildlife protection over commercial exploitation, but that those rules were reversed by President Bush just before Thanksgiving 2002.
The old rules amounted to a lot of bureaucracy that frustrated companies anxious to utilize public lands. But, as a wise friend once told me, one of the most frustrating aspects of the government — bureaucracy — is also a great strength. There are some things that you don’t want to rush. Without government controls, public lands that have been preserved for future generations to enjoy will be developed until they no longer exist. And now, many of those government controls put into place by President Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and President Clinton have now been repealed, quietly, right before Christmas, and right when other news stories are grabbing headlines.