October 27, 2002
Dr. David Wm. Smith, CF
Society of American Foresters
Emeritus Professor of Forestry
621 Woodland Drive, NW
Blacksburg, VA 24061-3234
Dear President Smith:
Several weeks ago we received a copy of the August 28, 2002 letter that you wrote, in your capacity as SAF President, to Senator Robert Byrd, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. The letter addressed the current wildfire problem on the nation's public (primarily Forest Service) lands in the western United States. It was read and extensively discussed at the Louisiana SAF's annual meeting on September 18, 2002.
You accurately and definitively set out the facts concerning the problem, including describing its parameters and outlining the reasons for its existence. In this connection you quoted from SAF's report Forest of Discord in offering suggestions for improving the management of the national forests. You went on to point out that SAF recognizes that the current problems are being caused in large part by time-consuming and frivolous administrative appeals and lawsuits -- often based on little or no scientific validity -- filed within the permissive framework of various environmental laws. The letter rightfully acknowledges that such appeals ignore the Forest Service planning process and public comment periods, and that those who appeal seldom have on-the-ground involvement with the project in question.
The Louisiana SAF fully agrees with these statements and commends you for communicating them to Chairman Byrd. As expressed unanimously by those of our members (including a number of Forest Service employees) present on September 18, however, Louisiana SAF strongly disagrees with your pronouncement at the top of page 2 of the letter that SAF (as professional forest managers) does not support emergency suspension of environmental laws to assist in alleviating the problem -- and that the problem should be addressed within the framework of existing laws.
We recognize that the letter was written after President Bush's announcement of his Healthy Forests Initiative but before the Administration actually presented the legislative portion of that initiative to Congress. Louisiana SAF believes that you were premature in sending your letter. It would have been better, in our opinion, to have not taken such a hasty position but rather to have waited to examine the legislative portion of the Initiative and the several proposed amendments to the Interior Appropriations Bill, relative to the Initiative that were subsequently filed.
You (and by extension, SAF) rightfully acknowledge in the letter that the status quo is not sufficient, and recognize that the existing administrative and legal processes cannot adequately address the current fire danger given the urgency of the situation. In this respect, however, you nevertheless ask only for legislative reform, not legislative suspension.
The Louisiana SAF agrees that legislative reform is the long-run answer. By unanimous vote of those present on September 18, however, we strongly disagree with your position that legislative suspension is not the answer in the short-run. Based on past history, it is apparent that reform is not going to occur in the near future -- and certainly not soon enough to timely address the current fire problem. In the meantime, action is needed now to alleviate a very critical situation.
You state at the top of page 3 of the letter that SAF, as an interim solution, supports Congress directing the judiciary to more heavily weigh the harm of not implementing a hazardous fuel reduction project versus the short-term consequences of moving forward. Even if Congress were to take this step, which is highly unlikely, LASAF believes that the federal judiciary would not pay it much heed.
In summation, Louisiana SAF fully and strongly supports the President's Healthy Forest Initiative in its entirety. We believe, because of the urgency of the problem, that the temporary suspension of particular provisions of certain environmental laws -- which are flawed to begin with -- in order to allow the completion of critical fuels reduction projects is the only practical way to proceed in the short-run. We believe that this can be accomplished with sufficient sidebars in place so that the negative impacts associated with the salvage rider would not reoccur.
Louisiana SAF objects to the issuance of your letter as representing the SAF membership at large. We believe that a substantial portion of SAF members, if not a majority, would disagree with you as we do per our comments above. On a final note, our Council Representative informed us that he was not made privy to the letter for comments and concurrence before it was sent. We believe this should have been done.
John Adams, CF# 302
Chair, Louisiana SAF