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Forest policy by stealth

5/31/2006

Now you see it, and now you don't. That's the way magicians play
the game. It's not the way politicians always play the game, according
to an Associated Press story.

When Congress was voting on a recent, massive spending bill, the
appropriate observation concerning many items was now you don't see
them, and now you don't see them.

Debate was often missing because no
one noticed the items, it's reported, and there is legitimate
complaint about this rush job, including the complaint of some
environmental groups about a forest stewardship provision.

On its merits, the program seems a good one. It would allow timber
companies to harvest profitable trees if they also agreed to clear out
underbrush of the sort that led to devastating and uncontrollable
wildfires this past year.

Despite worries by environmental groups,
forests will not thereby be transformed into something akin to
downtown parking lots. They will likely be rendered more healthy.

Alternatives would be either to do very little or to have the
government undertake thinning at an enormous cost to taxpayers.

None of this means that a policy of this sort of significance
should have been adopted without a chance for full-fledged debate and
informed voting by the members of Congress.

A congressional revisiting of the issue should take place when the next
spending bill for a new budget year comes up.

Jay Ambrose is director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard
Newspapers.