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Bush Calls on Congress to Approve Forest Fire Legislation - 2003-08-16

President Bush is calling on Congress to approve legislation that he says will help prevent catastrophic wildfires, which destroy hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest each year.

The measure would make it easier for timber companies to cut trees and brush in fire-prone areas. The president said removal of undergrowth would reduce the danger of fast-spreading fires. Critics say it is merely a way for private timber companies to gain easier access to government-owned forests.

The U.S. House of Representatives has already approved the legislation. The Senate will consider it after returning from the summer recess next month.

In his weekly radio speech Saturday, President Bush also promised to spend almost $5 billion over five years for needed repair and maintenance in U.S. national parks. The president said his administration has made a good start on the work, but he said much more needs to be done because, in the past, national parks have not received "the attention they require."

Environmental groups say the president is exaggerating the progress made by his administration, saying most of the money spent on park repairs the past two years was simply a continuation of ongoing appropriations.