Forest Service report misleads the public |

Forest Service report misleads the public

The Forest Service recently released a report blaming environmentalists for blocking fuels reduction projects in national forests. But a close examination of the “study” reveals that the agency used Enron-style accounting to mislead the public. Essentially the Service cooked its books to make it appear as if legal challenges had halted legitimate fuels reduction projects.

The Forest Service report comes in response to a blistering indictment by the Government Accounting Office of forest mismanagement. The Bush administration had attempted to blame environmentalists’ alleged legal challenges to fuels reduction projects for this summer’s wildfires. The GAO report found only 1 percent of the more than 1,600 fuels reduction projects were ever appealed and none were litigated. The GAO also concluded that the Service’s own failures to properly manage its resources to protect people and communities from wildfires – not appeals or litigation – were responsible for the fires. To counter the GAO report, the agency reached a radically different conclusion: 48 percent of 326 “mechanical fuel treatment projects” (i.e. timber sales) were appealed by environmental groups in 2000 and 2001; 6 percent were litigated.

Close inspection of the Forest Service report shows, however, that environmentalists actually supported thinning and burning of small trees and focused their opposition on logging of old growth trees, roadless areas far from communities, and endangered species’ habitat. Unfortunately, the Service report did not distinguish between large-scale industrial logging and fuels reduction projects. By lumping the very different projects together, the agency created the illusion that environmentalists had stymied fire management projects. A simple division of the projects into old growth timber sales and small thinning projects reveals a very telling trend: the former almost always appealed, the later are almost never appealed.

Brian Vincent

American Lands Alliance

Nevada City

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