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Bureaucratic Discretion and Environmental Protection


The Obama Administration is producing a comprehensive planning document for national forest management. By and large, environmentalists are OK with it. Except for one major exception. One of the key environmental victories in protecting the northern spotted owl and thus the Northwest’ old-growth forests was a 1982 United States Forest Service regulation that forced the agency to focus on the distribution of species throughout the forests, meaning that you had an emphasis on species movement, genetic diversity, and protecting swaths of habitat throughout a national forest. The timber companies and Republicans hated this because it empowered the courts to order the end to most old-growth logging to protect the owl.

This regulation is severely watered-down in the new regulations. Specifically, it allows the manager of a national forest to make these decisions, allowing a bureaucrat massive discretion in deciding the future of a species. Under a Democratic president, it’s possible that these decisions will be made with the health of the species and forest as a whole in mind. Under a Republican, appointees will almost certainly eviscerate any attempt to protect wildlife.

The larger question is whether science or politics will govern our national forest land. Is it more important to ensure the proper distribution of a species or play politics? Unfortunately, and again despite an overall forest policy that is reasonably good, the Obama Administration has decided to open the door for future presidents to undermine wildlife protection.

Another way of putting it is that the timber industry and their Congressional flacks like Doc Hastings are very pleased. And that’s never a good sign.

….Here’s a good example from New Mexico about why allowing political appointees to create environmental management policy is a bad idea.

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