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Healthy Logging

Baucus: Agency Hasn't Used Wildfire Prevention Legislation

Legislation that gave the U.S. Forest Service authority to thin trees to reduce the risk of wildfire has gone largely unused, Sen. Max Baucus charged Wednesday at a Senate hearing.

"I don't think the Forest Service has done a very good job," said Baucus, D-Mont. "I think there's something wrong up there. I don't know what it is, whether it's management, dollars, lack of mission or guidance. But they're not getting the job done we all thought they would."

Baucus, who helped pass the Healthy Forest Restoration Act last year, said the Forest Service has used the law to thin only about 12,000 acres in Montana's nine national forests. Baucus acknowledged there was a slight increase in the number of acres treated between this fiscal year and fiscal 2003, but said the area is still small. Baucus was especially critical of the Forest Service for not thinning any land in the Flathead National Forest, site of several fires last summer.

So Healthy Forests is a failed bit of handouts for the logging industry. But not to worry -- the Senate is working on sweetening the pot:

Witnesses also told a Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry subcommittee that the federal government will have to make such projects profitable enough for local and regional timber companies expected to do the work.

Subcommittee chairman Mike Crapo and several witnesses, including the Bush administration official who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, raised the possibility of commercial timber sales or mixing less valuable underbrush and marketable larger trees.

"I know that some are probably a little uneasy about me bringing up a commercial connection here. We built a lot of our common approach to get the Healthy Forests Restoration Act passed by staying away from the commercial arguments," said Crapo, R-Idaho.


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