President Bush wants to make it easier for timber companies to cut trees in national forests as a way of helping to reduce the risk of wildfires. Environmentalists say the plan threatens protected lands.
President Bush wants more logging in national forests to help solve what he calls a "fire crisis" threatening western states.
From Alaska to New Mexico, wildfires have burned nearly 2.4 million hectares (six million acres) this summer. That is more than twice the yearly average.
In his weekly radio address, the president said private timber companies should have more access to national forests to help remove the undergrowth that fuels wildfires. "For too long, America's fire prevention strategy has been shortsighted," president Bush said. "Forest policies have not focused on thinning, the clearing of the forest floor of built-up brush and densely packed trees that create the fuel for extremely large fires, like those experienced this year."
The president will make some of the changes himself. Others require Congressional action, including provisions allowing timber companies to sell the wood they clear, in exchange for removing brush and dead wood.
The president's plan would also make it harder for environmental groups to appeal logging deals. A Forest Service report says more than half of its recently proposed plans to thin western forests have been delayed by legal challenges. "We will guard against excessive red tape and endless litigation that stand in the way of sensible forest management decisions," he said. "I have directed Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to reduce bureaucracy and speed up the process of thinning on public lands. And I urge Congress to pass legislation that will ensure that vital forest restoration projects are not tied up in courts forever."
With fires still burning in some western states, the Bush administration says 76 million hectares (190 million acres) of public land and surrounding communities are at increased risk of extreme fires.
Many environmentalists support selective thinning of small trees and brush near the growing number of communities around national forests. But they oppose logging larger, older trees deeper in the wilderness.