Bush, Kerry fighting over forests
Sen. John Kerry’s ideas about the well-being of the nation’s forests, themselves highly critical of the Bush administration’s wilderness policies, have been attacked vigorously by Western Republicans, who’ve called proposals the Democratic candidate announced this week “pathetic.” Kerry’s forest plan would reallocate $100 million in federal funds, money he says now pays for timber industry subsidies, to create a Forest Restoration Corps intended to work on conservation projects in the nation’s forests. But U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, a Republican who represents large parts of western Colorado, portrayed Kerry as a disinterested urban liberal, saying he wondered if Kerry had ever been in a national forest. Former Montana governor Mark Racicot, chairman of the Bush-Cheney ’04 re-election campaign, called Kerry’s ideas “pathetic.” “The closet John Kerry’s come to a forest is when he’s looked out the window of his Gulfstream on his way to his $10 million cabin in Idaho,” said McInnis, the author of the Healthy Forest Initiative, which was signed into law by President Bush last year. The law, which many believe will make it easier to “thin” national forests in the name of fire prevention, drew both criticism from environmental groups, as well as support from some Democrats in Congress. Racicot the Healthy Forests law already contains many of Kerry’s proposals, including more funding for firefighters, cutting down trees near neighborhoods to protect property and involving local and state governments in approving forest work. “This effort he’s brought forward, quite frankly, when you take a look at it, is pathetic, it’s pathetic in its understanding of the West,” Racicot said. “This is another example of how far out of touch John Kerry is with the priorities of Western states and Western voters.”U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, the Democrat who represents Eagle County, voted for the Healthy Forests Initiative, but said the law has so far been used ineffectively. “It’s easy to talk about making our forests healthy and improving our firefighting capacity, but the Bush administration has largely failed to back up their talk with funding to do the job,” Udall said. “Under a Kerry administration, I believe we will have the resources to make the Healthy Forest law a reality in the West.”Racicot and McInnis accused Kerry of pandering to activist environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club and Greenpeace. McInnis said forests are dangerously thick, with up to 1,000 trees per acre. The Healthy Forest Initiative will work on reducing the number of trees to historical norms, around 60 to 100 trees an acre, McInnis said. A major part of the conflict between the campaigns is over funding for firefighters and firefighting equipment, including air tankers that have been used in the past to drop retardant on forest fires. Most of those tankers were grounded after pilots were killed when one of the planes crashed in California. Kerry says his plan would guarantee funding for firefighters, as well as concentrate spending in areas where homes and neighborhoods have spread into the forests. “Sen. Kerry rightly puts emphasis on putting money and resources into wildlife mitigation and thinning, and most important of all he would focus on the public and private lands in the red zone where homes and forests come together,” Udall said. Racicot called these claims disingenuous, saying the Health Forest Initiative already provides sufficient money for firefighters and protections for homes. “Kerry’s attack on this issue demonstrates again he simply does not understand the issues,” Racicot said. “The suggestion that you can somehow fully fund a fire prevention program is absurd.” Racicot and McInnis said neither Kerry, nor his running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, attended the vote on the Healthy Forest Initiative. “It’s not an issue (Kerry) knows anything about, it’s not an issue he’s had an interest in,” McInnis said. Polls have indicated Bush has only a slight lead over Kerry in some Western states that have traditionally leaned Republican, including Colorado and Arizona. The Kerry campaign has therefore increased appearances and advertising in the West.