Bush Administration Healthy Forest Initiative Fails Fish, Public Trust
Policy would jeopardize much of the West’s remaining quality salmon and trout habitat on public lands with little or no public input
Vice President of Conservation
8/20/2003 -- Portland, Ore. -- Trout Unlimited, the nation’s largest trout and salmon conservation organization today roundly criticized the so called “Healthy Forest Initiative” forest management strategy. President George W. Bush is expected to tout the Initiative tomorrow at fundraising stops in Oregon.
Ostensibly developed to address unhealthy forest conditions and unnaturally intense fires, the Healthy Forests Initiative contains provisions that would allow logging, thinning and associated road-building to occur on remote public lands without adequate environmental analysis or public input. Legislation implementing the policies of the Healthy Forests Initiative has already passed the U.S. House, with the U.S. Senate slated to address companion legislation next month.
“If enacted into law, the policies reflected in the Healthy Forests Initiative would effectively expose remaining threatened trout and salmon populations to the same kinds of impacts that caused them to become ‘threatened’ in the first place,” said Chris Wood, TU Vice President of Conservation Programs.
Trout Unlimited recently embarked on a “Public Lands Initiative” to promote fish and wildlife protection and responsible use on public lands West-wide.
Sam Mace, TU’s Wildland’s Fisheries Coordinator noted: “Half of the nation’s native trout and salmon habitat lies on public lands, and all 35 species of threatened and endangered trout and salmon spend at least some portion of their life cycle in watersheds on federal lands. The damage to such habitat caused by hastily constructed and shoddily maintained logging roads cannot be overstated.” Erosion from roads and denuded slopes can choke or bury sensitive trout and salmon spawning areas, raise water temperatures, degrade water quality, expose fish to predators and other problems. By the same token, the value to fish populations of protecting these areas from this type of impact cannot be overstated either.
In the Interior Columbia River Basin, 60 percent of the best remaining trout and salmon habitat in within roadless or low road density areas and 85 percent of the healthiest populations of all western cutthroat trout species occur in wilderness and roadless areas. Seventy-six percent of remaining healthy populations of bull trout are found in roadless areas.
“Few would argue with the need to address our nation’s forest health needs,” said Wood. “Healthy ecosystems attract healthy fish and wildlife. These are goals we all support.”
Wood noted that a troubling aspect of the Healthy Forests Initiative was its apparent bypassing of existing public comment and administrative appeals standards for forest use. The Healthy Forests Initiative eliminates the opportunity for public comments or sets very short deadlines for the public to file legal challenges on proposed forest use. It also restricts the level and quality of environmental analysis that informs agency decisions about logging and road building and other forest health related activities.
Countless volunteers among Trout Unlimited’s 127,000 nationwide members devote thousands of hours every year toward on-the-ground public land restoration projects. TU members working hand-in-hand with agency personnel, and often contributing money to the projects, to get much-needed restoration work done efficiently and effectively
"To somehow suggest that cutting our members out of the public process and limiting environmental analysis is going to result in better decisions is either delusional or exceedingly cynical,” said Wood.