Pact may expedite forest thinning |

Pact may expedite forest thinning

Western House members struck a deal Wednesday that could break a deadlock in Congress and speed up projects designed to avoid a repeat of this year’s massive wildfires.

The agreement seeks to expedite projects to cut down trees in overgrown national forests and federal land, focusing on areas near homes, watersheds, endangered species habitat and diseased or insect-infested forests.

‘By limiting it to those areas we think it’s a program that can work,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who helped negotiate the deal. ”We can get on with the fire treatment and hopefully mitigate future catastrophic fires and tragedy with people losing their homes, their lives.”

The bi-partisan effort drew praise from a Sacramento-based timber industry representative, and fire from a Nevada City environmentalist.

“This is really not a partisan issue, so I think every bi-partisan effort to get past the regulatory gridlock and bureaucratic red tape … that has stymied the Forest Service, .. is good,” said Dave Bischel, President of the Sacramento-based California Forestry Association. “They certainly … appear to be trying to find a compromise.

Brian Vincent, the Nevada City-based organizer for the environmental group, American Lands said, “We are shocked and dismayed that Representative Miller would support legislation that steamrolls environmental safeguards for forests. Under this bill the timber industry gets to sit at the head of the table while the public has to wait outside the dining room.”

To expedite the forest thinning, the proposed bill would streamline the environmental studies – requiring the government to look at fewer alternatives – and tighten deadlines for administrative and judicial appeals.

Seventy percent of the forest treatment projects would have to be focused on areas where the federal land abuts homes or watersheds. The changes are projected to cut in half the time needed to implement logging projects designed to remove excess trees from overgrown, at-risk forests.

The agreement comes after weeks of negotiations among key representatives, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where several proposals to speed up forest treatment bogged down last month in partisan battles.

The 2002 fire season has been among the most intense on record, with more than 6.5 million acres having burned due to severe drought and overgrown forests resulting from a century of aggressive fire suppression.

– Tim Omarzu contributed to this story

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