Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth would like western Montanans to believe that recently implemented changes dramatically reducing the role of scientific and public input into how forests are managed were generated by frustrated local and regional land managers squeezed in the bureaucratic clutches of what Bosworth dubbed a “process predicament”—too much money, time and resources wasted in trying to meet the requirements of environmental law and citizen appeals. But an internal memo obtained by the Independent casts doubt on his contention.
In a Dec. 16 e-mail to Forest Service land managers addressing the changes, Bosworth wrote: “I recognize that there will be a great deal of political debate about today’s announcements, just as there was when we announced the planning rule. We need to become knowledgeable about the HFI [Pres. Bush’s Healthy Forest Initiative] and be able to professionally articulate what it would mean...The tools announced today were developed by some of our top people working with their counterparts in the other agencies, and I think they have done a great job. I do wish we could have involved more of you in their development and shared more of the specifics as we went along. I hope the Healthy Forest Updates at least kept you appraised of what we were working on.”
In a Dec. 13 interview with the Missoulian, Bosworth had implied that a more democratic process had brought about the rule changes that would end “analysis paralysis”: “The rule changes proposed this week do exactly that, while also addressing the need to thin fuels on millions of acres of public land nationwide,” Bosworth told the daily. “All came from foresters and land managers, not from politicians.”
According to Barb Beckis of the Bitterroot National Forest, Bosworth issued an e-mail last May asking for specific examples of the process predicament phenomenon. “It was a very quick turnaround, we had two or three days to respond,” says Beckis.
Such hastily gathered testimony was cited in Bosworth’s June report to Congress, a report that in part laid the groundwork for the recently announced rule changes.
Though Bosworth was unavailable for comment last week, Forest Service spokeswoman Heidi Valetkevitch echoed her boss’s claims, saying the new rules will improve public access to the forest planning process. But conservation groups nationwide have pointed out that the plan largely eliminates citizen appeals and guts scientific review.
And so, it seems, with the supposed input behind the new rules: less, in this administration, means more.