(Host) The Bush administration has overhauled rules for managing the nation’s forest so that regional managers have more authority. But in Vermont, the changes will have little effect for now. The supervisor of the Green Mountain National Forest plans to follow the old regulations in its forest management plan.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) The new rules give regional supervisors more authority to decide issues such as whether to allow all terrain vehicles or new logging roads.
In Vermont, officials have spent several years working on a new plan. It’s a 15-year management plan for the 375,000-acres of the Green Mountain National Forest. Supervisor Paul Brewster says he didn’t want to stop that process in its tracks, and start all over again.
(Brewster) “I don’t anticipate the Green Mountain National doing anything differently at this point. We’re far enough into this plan revision process that stopping and transitioning from the 1982 regulations to the 2004 regulations just wouldn’t make any sense, in terms of just, of the lost time that would likely result.”
(Dillon) Under certain circumstances, the rules relax requirements for environmental impact studies. Critics say the Bush administration’s changes will weaken protection for rare and endangered species. They say it will be easier for regional supervisors to open up forests to more logging.
Jamey Fidel is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council.
(Fidel) “Well, the big picture is these regulations take a huge step backwards from an environmental standpoint. They roll back environmental safeguards that were put in place under the Reagan administration. They minimize the role of science, they curtail the ability of the public to understand and influence environmental impacts of planning decisions.”
(Dillon) But Brewster says it makes sense to have more decisions made locally.
(Brewster) “There’s a lot of controversy about whether the local forest supervisor is going to be overly influenced by the timber industry or motorized vehicle users, or I don’t care what particular interest we’re talking about. I just don’t see that as an outcome of these new regulations.”
(Dillon) Fidel says he’s pleased Brewster will follow the old planning rules and will write a new environmental impact statement for the forest.
(Fidel) “That is encouraging. And it will be even more encouraging if he doesn’t implement any of the other options available to him. For example, he could still do an environmental impact statement but then decide that they’re not going to allow the public to appeal any final decisions.”
(Dillon) Brewster says the new regulations should speed up the planning process for the national forest. He says no one benefits when it takes six years or more to produce a management plan.
(Brewster) “Part of the intent behind updating the regulations that are now 22 years old is to update a process so that we have a shorter time frame to do that in.”
(Dillon) The draft plan for the Green Mountain National Forest will be out in early April and the public will get a chance to comment on it. Brewster says he hopes the plan is in place in by the spring of 2006.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.