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Background: President Bush’s Fire Fighting Policy

August 22, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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SPOKESMAN: Think you can get a good view of the hillside across the way. That is the area that’s been thinned.

SPENCER MICHELS: President Bush visited the fire-ravaged woods of southern Oregon today, where thousands of firefighters have been battling the state’s worst wildfire in more than a century. Since lightning ignited the blaze last month, it has burned about half a million acres. That fire is one of more than 30 large wildfires being fought in 14 states, most in the western half of the country. Colorado and Arizona have experienced the worst fires in their history. Overall, more than six million acres of forest land have burned this year, and the Bush administration estimates that roughly 190 million acres of federal forest remain at high risk of catastrophic fires. In Oregon today, President Bush said he wants to change national fire policy to decrease that risk.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The forest policy of our government is misguided policy. (Cheers and applause) It doesn’t work. We have got to understand that it makes sense to clear brush. We have to make sense… it makes sense to encourage people to make sure that the forest is not only healthy from disease, but is healthy from fire. We haven’t done that in the past. We just haven’t done it, and we’re now paying the price.

SPENCER MICHELS: If approved by Congress, the plan would allow for logging of larger and older trees as well as worthless underbrush on millions of acres of federal lands; rely on private logging companies to do more of that work and to give them leeway to make money on the wood they clear; and reduce the number of appeals of Forest Service decisions to allow timber sales.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We want to make sure our citizens have the right to the courthouse. People ought to have a right to express themselves, no question about it. But there is a fine balance between people expressing themselves and their opinion and using litigation to keep the United States of America from enacting common sense forest policy. (Cheers and applause)

SPENCER MICHELS: Earlier this year, governors of western states and environmental groups came up with their own ten-year plan to reduce fire risk. It would focus on thinning underbrush and small trees, which can fuel the blazes, rather than emphasizing logging. Environmentalists have already criticized the President’s plan as too favorable to timber interests. This afternoon, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said the environmentalists should be listened to.

SEN. RON WYDEN: We’re going to make sure they have a place at the table, and I want to make sure we can go forward and aggressively thin these high-risk areas and try and I’m going to try to win protection for some of our treasures, the old growth that we have in this part of the country.

SPENCER MICHELS: In the meantime, firefighting continues with federal troops helping out. The federal government may spend up to half a billion dollars in the effort.