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Up in Smoke

This summer has seen a ravaging of the western United States by a series of wildfires. Over 20 wildfires have burned about 4 million acres of forest in Oregon, California, Arizona and other states. The damage to the forests alone is double that of average years, and the fires have consumed or endangered hundreds of homes. Disasters of this scale require not only thousands of firefighters and other personnel, but also demand a long-term plan for preventing similar fires in the future.

President George W. Bush recently put forth such a plan, proposing to trim back the underbrush and younger areas of forest, which provide much of the fuel for wildfires. A cohesive consensus has developed among scientists that controlled thinning is necessary to prevent larger fires and can actually improve the health of forests. However, Bush's plan strays from reasonable thought on the environment. He suggests allowing logging companies to extend their operations into older trees and environmentally fragile forests in exchange for the companies footing the bill for thinning other areas. Although thinning forests will come at some cost, Bush's use of logging as an incentive would dangerously undermine environmental protections, resulting in the loss of a national treasure.

Ironically, Bush's "Healthy Forests" plan favors the selfish interests of the logging industry over the actual health of forests. The loggers win, bypassing over a decade of environmental protections and the forests lose shelter for wildlife, the ability to prevent erosion and a host of other features that benefit human quality of life, both practically and aesthetically. Allowing for the logging of older forests would offset some of the costs of thinning forests, but in this case Bush should not sacrifice the sanctity of forested lands in order to subsidize the logging industry.

Considering Bush's record on the environment, however, the public ought not be surprised. The president's record is fraught with actions that favor economic progress and business over environmental protections. His environmental plans also too often contradict the sound advice of environmentalists. Such disdain for demonstrated knowledge and environmental science shows Bush's penchant for favoring special interests over good policy when it comes to the environment.

The government should proceed with its plan to trim the underbrush and younger areas of forest in order to prevent future fires, but should work to protect older growth trees that are a vital national resource. Working with sound science, the Bush administration should be able to protect our homes from fires and prevent the unnecessary clearing of older trees without destroying the environment. But his current proposal is too favorable toward the timber industry and too destructive of older trees to be viable. The administration should reconsider its forest policy.


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