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Bush urges thinning to prevent forest fires

Bush urges thinning to prevent forest fires

CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush Saturday said U.S. fire prevention strategy has been "shortsighted" and called for a greater emphasis on thinning and clearing of forest brush and trees to help prevent wildfires that have burnt the United States during this hot, dry summer.

In his Saturday radio address, he said he is directing Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman and Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to "speed up the process of thinning on public lands" and wants Congress to "pass legislation that will ensure that vital forest restoration projects are not tied up in courts forever."

"As we work to put out the fires and bring relief to their victims, we also have a responsibility to prevent the devastation that can be caused by future fires," Bush said. "For too long, America's fire prevention strategy has been shortsighted."

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Bush Thursday unveiled what he termed "common sense" changes allowing forests to be thinned by loggers to reduce fire danger. Environmental groups immediately assailed Bush's plan, called the Healthy Forests Initiative "cynical politicking."

Environmentalists also contend that the current drought, rather than environmental laws, is primarily to blame for the recent spate of wildfires across the West. Bush Thursday said administrative regulations that hamper forest management need to be removed, and he also called for limits on lawsuits by environmentalists to stop or delay work.

Bush said those who fight fires and study forests "agree that we must strengthen the health of our forests through a combination of thinning and quickly restoring areas damaged by fires. By actively managing our forests in this way, we'll help our environment by reducing the number of acres of forest land that catastrophic fires burn each year."

"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," Bush said.

Such a "hands-off approach to forest management," he said, has been "devastating to our environment, and it can take more than a century for forests to recover from these fires."

Bush is also urging Congress to pass the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, which would allow 1 million board feet of timber a year to be taken out of forests in Northwestern states. He said the plan, which was supported by the Clinton administration but never approved by Congress, would create 100,000 jobs in the region.

"I want our forests healthy, and I want our economy healthy," he said. "Congress needs to pass the laws necessary to implement the plan."

The 2002 wildfire season has been one of the worst in modern history, torching a staggering 6.1 million acres so far.




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