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Bush Lauds Forest Fire Plan - 2001-08-15

Firefighters are working almost non-stop in the American west, where hot, dry air has created the perfect conditions for wildfires. Local and state officials say they are about to go on a war footing to fight the blazes. It's become a big issue for politicians from small town halls to the White House.

In the cool green woods of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park, President Bush was hard at work.

He joined a group of volunteers and park rangers clearing brush and cutting down low-hanging branches that could provide perfect fuel for a forest fire.

"It's great to travel up on the trail and see the wise public policy being deployed here," said the president, "public policy to make sure that we reduce the hazards of forest fires."

Mr. Bush praised an aggressive plan, which was endorsed Monday by his administration, to thin out forests on federal and state lands to prevent wildfires. Under the plan, brush, debris and some trees will be removed in an all out effort to reduce the danger of a forest going up in flames.

Rocky Mountain National Park, is not currently at risk. Most of the fires now blazing are farther west in California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington State. But the lush Colorado woodlands and the cloud-shrouded Rocky Mountains beyond provided a perfect backdrop for a president seeking to dramatize his concern for the environment.

"You know, when I was growing up in Texas, a lot of people said 'I spent my summer in Estes Park,'" said Mr. Bush. "And now I know why. It is a beautiful spot."

After clearing brush and working on a nature trail, Mr. Bush visited a summer camp just outside the park. His remarks seemed reminiscent of last year's campaign for the White House. The President didn't talk much about specific policies aside from a mention of the plan to prevent forest fires. Most of his comments dealt with broader themes like American values.

"The spirit of the country is reflected, in my judgment, right here in this beautiful setting," he said. "The spirit of America is found in the character of our citizens, [in] the value base that makes America, I think, such a different kind of place."

Mr. Bush went to Colorado from his Texas ranch, leaving the high heat and dry prairie of the southwest for the breezy mountain air of the Rocky Mountains. It was the first of several short trips he plans to make outside of Texas during his month-long working vacation. Aides say he won't dwell on policy matters during these trips, but will focus on values the public says are important: values like respect for others, the importance of hard work, and individual responsibility.