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Context of 'March 2003: Forest Service Decides to Outsource Work by Model Department'

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The Bush administration pressures the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) to stop accepting form letters. CAT’s job is to review comment letters from the public and produce summary reports on public opinion for policy decision-makers. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Content Analysis Team (CAT)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Newfields International, an environmental consulting firm, completes a study comparing several different content-analysis techniques used by government agencies and private contractors. The study, commissioned by Yosemite National Park, finds that the Forest Service’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) is using the most cost-effective, high-quality system available, explaining that the team has a “track record (that) is not equaled by any other organized process.” CAT is in charge of reviewing comment letters from the public and producing summary reports for policy decision-makers. Two months later the Bush administration will announce that the program will be reviewed for possible outsourcing to private contractors (see December 2002). [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Yosemite National Park, US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Newfields International, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

On the day before Thanksgiving, the Bush administration releases proposed rule changes that would lead to increased logging of federal forests for commercial or recreational activities by giving local forest managers the authority to open up the forests to development without requiring environmental impact assessments and without specific standards to maintain local fish and wildlife populations. Administration officials claim the changes are needed because existing rules—approved by the Clinton administration two months before Bush took office—are unclear, in addition to being costly and difficult to implement. Critics charge the changes are aimed at pleasing the timber industry at the expense of forest ecosystems. The proposed changes would affect roughly 192 million acres of US forests and grasslands. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/27/2002; CBS News, 11/27/2002] The proposal closely follows the timber industry’s wish list—a “coincidence” according to the Forest Service. [Native Forest Network, 11/27/2002 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Forest Service officials inform employees working for the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that their jobs are being reviewed for possible outsourcing to the private sector. The employees are assured that the review would make them “a shining example for the rest of the agency of how successful federal employees can be.” Months later, CAT will undergo “direct conversion” instead, and all but the team’s top managers will lose their jobs to private sector outsourcing (see March 2003). [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, and Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairman James L. Connaughton meet with President Bush to discuss the implementation of the administration’s “Healthy Forest Initiative.” After the meeting, they announce proposed changes that would expedite the approval of “fuels treatment” projects (forest thinning) by weakening the review process and restricting public input. [US Department of Interior, 12/11/2002; Associated Press, 12/11/2002] Critics say the changes would make it easier for the timber industry to cut the larger, more fire resistant trees, making the forests more vulnerable to wildfires. They also charge that the proposed rules would allow logging interests to override local concerns. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/11/2002] Mike Francis, a forest specialist with the Wilderness Society, commenting on the proposed rule changes, tells the Associated Press, “Those are nothing more than administration’s typical desires to cut the public out of forest decisions. This administration doesn’t like what the public wants to do with their forests.” [Associated Press, 12/11/2002]

Entity Tags: James L. Connaughton, George W. Bush, Gale A. Norton, Ann M. Veneman, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush delivers his State of the Union address and describes his rollbacks as environmental protections. He talks about his “Healthy Forest Initiative” (see May 21, 2003) and the issues of energy independence and air pollution, stressing his administration’s disfavor with “command-and-control regulations.” Bush does not mention the issue of clean water. [Natural Resources Defense Council, 1/28/2003; US President, 2/3/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Forest Service officials inform employees of the agency’s Content Analysis Team (CAT) that the work they are doing will be outsourced to the private sector. The management team will remain, but the content analysis work will be farmed out to contract consultants. This decision is made despite the department’s reputation for remarkable efficiency. In October 2002, a study commissioned by Yosemite National Park had praised CAT saying it had a “track record… [un]equaled by any other organized process.” (see October 2002). A study three months later will conclude that outsourcing will actually cost the agency more (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Department of Interior informs Congress that it has decided to settle a lawsuit filed years ago by the state of Utah over the Bureau of Land Management’s policy of rejecting drilling and mining projects in areas under review for wilderness protection. The decision withdraws protected status for 3 million acres of land in Utah. Without designation as a Wilderness Area, portions of the Red Rock Canyons in southern Utah could be open to logging, oil and gas drilling, mineral extraction, road-building and other development. A federal appeals court had previously ruled against the state on all but one count and consequently the lawsuit’s status had been moribund since 1998. [USA Today, 4/11/2003] But in March, Utah made an amendment to its complaint, thus reopening the case and providing the Bush administration with an opportunity to make a “settlement.” Environmental groups say the settlement is the outcome of a deal made between Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Utah Governor Mike Leavitt behind closed-doors. [USA Today, 4/11/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 4/20/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 5/6/2003; Salt Lake Tribune, 6/18/2003; Wilderness Society, 4/28/2004] In addition to the settlement, the Bush administration stops congressional reviews of Western lands for wilderness protection, capping wilderness designation at 22.8 million acres nationwide. [USA Today, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: US Congress, US Department of Interior, Mike Leavitt, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The House of Representatives passes the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 by a vote of 256 to 170 as part of the Bush administration’s “Healthy Forests Initiative.” (see November 27, 2002) (see December 11, 2002). [US Department of the Interior, 5/30/2003] The legislation, introduced by Rep. Scott McInnis, relaxes requirements for the removal of small underbrush and trees on 20 million acres of forestland vulnerable to wildfires. The bill, dubbed the “‘Healthy Stealthy’ Act” by critics, removes important environmental safeguards and reduces public participation and judicial review, [Reuters, 5/22/2003] facilitating the timber industry’s access to 192 million acres. The measure also increases the industry’s subsidies by $125 million. [Alternet, 5/19/2003]

Entity Tags: Scott McInnis, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Forest Service outsources the work of 47 agency employees of the Content Analysis Team (CAT) to private consulting companies, despite an August 2002 independent study praising the team for its efficiency (see October 2002) and a June 2003 internal analysis concluding that outsourcing would increase the Forest Service’s costs (see June 2004). [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President George Bush names Utah Governor Mike Leavitt as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), replacing Christie Todd Whitman who resigned in June. [US President, 8/18/2003] Leavitt was at the center of a controversy a couple of months ago for a back-room deal he made with Interior Secretary Gale Norton to suspend wilderness studies on millions of acres of Utah lands (see April 11, 2003). He supports replacing mandatory pollution controls with voluntary compliance programs for polluting industries and is a strong backer of the administration’s policy of shifting environmental regulation to the states. [Washington Times, 8/12/2003] During his term as governor, US Magnesium, a magnesium-processing company on the western side of the Great Salt Lake, earned the place as the nation’s worst polluter. Leavitt says that he and Bush “have a like mind and a like heart” on environmental policy. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003] Environmentalists condemn the nomination noting that aside from Leavitt’s strong opposition to a plan to store nuclear waste on a Utah Indian reservation, the governor has a very poor environmental record. “Mike Leavitt has no credentials, no understanding and no political willpower to protect America’s clean air, clean water and clean land,” Marc Clemens, chapter coordinator for the Utah Sierra Club, tells the Salt Lake Tribune. [Salt Lake Tribune, 8/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Mike Leavitt, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton signs a legal opinion by Deputy Solicitor Roderick Walston reversing the interpretation of the agency’s previous solicitor-general, John Leshy, who had ruled in 1996 that the 1872 Mining Law limits each 20-acre mining claim on federal land to a single five-acre waste site. As a result of Norton’s decision, mining companies will be permitted to dump unlimited amounts of toxic waste on public lands, threatening surrounding waterways, wildlife, and the health of local human populations. The Bush administration and the mining industry have argued that the Clinton-era opinion caused a significant reduction in US minerals exploration, mine development and mining jobs since 1997. “It created an atmosphere of uncertainty and when you are making investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, uncertainty is not something you want to face,” explains Assistant Interior Secretary Rebecca Watson. “We anticipate we will now see more development and exploration for mining.” The decision was praised by the mining industry. “This is good news,L Russ Fields, executive director of the Nevada Mining Association. “The old opinion did create a lot of uncertainty for our industry.” [Associated Press, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton, John Leshy, Roderick Walston

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

US Forest Service officials remove Michael Gertsch, a Forest Service wildlife biologist since 1976, from a team of scientists working on an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan after he repeatedly complains that the agency is misrepresenting the impact of forest fires on owl populations, which are dependent on old stands of trees. “I fought and fought and fought and fought and finally they used some excuse and removed me from the team,” he later tells the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Michael Gertsch

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

President Bush signs into law the “Healthy Forest Restoration Act,” (see May 21, 2003) aimed at reducing environmental and judicial review of forest-thinning fire-prevention programs in national forests. The law—modeled on President Bush’s “Healthy Forest Initiative”—almost doubles the federal budget for forest-thinning projects to $760 million. [White House, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] The bill axes a requirement that any proposed US Forest Service (USFS) program that may adversely affect endangered plants or animals be reviewed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the new law, reviews will instead be performed by USFS biologists or other land-management agencies. Marty Hayden, legislative director for Earthjustice, says the measure removes important checks and balances. “The conflict of interest is that the agency whose top job is to do the logging will make this decision, rather than the agency whose top job is to protect threatened or endangered species,” he explains. [Los Angeles Times, 12/4/2003] Critics of the bill argue that it will make it easier for timber companies to log large fire-resistant trees in remote parts of the forest and ignore the needs of at-risk communities who need help clearing flammable brush from the immediate areas surrounding their homes and property. Sean Cosgrove, a forest expert with the Sierra Club, tells CNN: “The timber industry fought real hard for this bill for a reason and it’s not because they want to remove brush and chaparral. Through and through this thing is about increasing commercial logging with less environmental oversight.” Overall, critics say, the law reduces environmental review, limits citizen appeals, pressures judges to quickly handle legal challenges to logging plans, and facilitates access for logging companies to America’s 20 million acres of federal forests. [Associated Press, 12/3/2003; Natural Resources Defense Council, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 12/4/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, US Forest Service, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Forest Service quietly announces its decision to allow the construction of roads on 3 percent of the 9.3 million acres in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, opening up the once protected forest to possible logging and mining. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] “It allows us to maintain a stable supply of raw materials, in the form of logs, for our small, community-centered mills scattered throughout the 32 communities of southeast Alaska,” explains Dennis Neill, public affairs officer for the National Forest Service. “It’s a viable forest with vast stretches of functional ecosystem that’s going to stay that way. We’re very dedicated to keeping this forest as a functional ecosystem.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003] The decision was made by the Forest Service in consultation with Agriculture Department officials and the White House Office of Management and Budget after Alaska’s governor sought an exemption from the Clinton-era Roadless Rule claiming that it violates the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. [Associated Press, 12/23/2003] The decision ignores some 2 million public comments in favor of upholding the Roadless Rule in Tongass. Critics warn that building roads will harm salmon runs by silting up streams and blocking access to spawning grounds. Additionally it will give hunters increased access to wolves, bears and other animals in remote parts of the forest. And though the Forest Service says that logging will be confined to no more than 3 percent of the Tongass, environmental groups say that since the parcels to be logged are so spread out, the access roads could ultimately disturb four times that figure. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Office of Management and Budget, Bush administration (43), US Department of Agriculture

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Interior Secretary Gale Norton says her department intends to increase the number of permits granted each year for gas drilling on public lands in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin from 1,000 to 3,000 and “streamline” the permit review process. The decision is a response to complaints by energy companies that the review process for drilling permits on federal property is three times as long as that for drilling on private and state-owned lands. Critics warn that the quicker permit approval process will come at the expense of thorough environmental impact assessments. Drilling for gas wells in the northeastern Wyoming basin requires pumping groundwater to release the natural gas trapped in coal seams. This often causes the wells of local residents to run dry. [Associated Press, 1/22/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Interior, Bush administration (43), Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Jack Blackwell, the US Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Regional Forester, announces an amendment to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan which manages 11 national forests in California. According to the Forest Service, the amendment will “reduce the acres burned by severe wildfires by more than 30 percent” and “double the acres of large old growth trees [and ]… spotted owl nesting habitat” over the next fifty years. The plan is portrayed as a response to an emergency situation. “Large, old trees, wildlife habitat, homes and local communities will be increasingly destroyed unless the plan is improved,” Blackwell says. According to the agency, an average of 4.5 owl sites a year have been destroyed by wildfires in the area over the last four years. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004; US Forest Service, 1/22/2004; Chico News and Review, 1/29/2004; Environment News Service, 2/26/2004]
bullet The amendment will triple the amount of timber that can be harvested generating about 330 million board-feet of green timber annually during the first ten years.
bullet The amendment will reduce the percentage of funds designated for timber thinning near communities from 75 to 25 percent. The majority of timber removal will be done in remote, uninhabited forests.
bullet The revised plan will cost $50 million per year. However, the Forest Service only has $30 million allocated for the plan. The agency intends to raise the additional $20 million through commercial timber sales. Companies that remove more than a certain amount of brush and saplings will also be permitted to remove a number of larger trees.
bullet The amendment will increase the maximum trunk width of trees that may be removed from 20 inches to 30 inches. It is later discovered that justification for the amendment was based on politicized data and exaggerated claims. For example, an important statement that put the risk of forest fires in perspective written by veteran wildlife biologist Michael Gertsch was left out of the final version. According to Gertsch, his section was excluded because “the conclusion… was that fire appears to be more of a maintenance mechanism than a destructive force for owl habitat.” When Gertsch refused to back down from his analysis, he was removed from the project (see January 22, 2004). Describing the final version of the amendment, he says, “Snippets were taken from science, but they didn’t listen to the science community.” [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] The Associated Press will later investigate some of the amendment’s claims and in August publish a report revealing that “at least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey” (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Forest Service, Michael Gertsch

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

[pictures rearranged for display purposes] Series of photo shots included in the US Forest Services’ “Forests with a Future Brochure” brochure[pictures rearranged for display purposes] Series of photo shots included in the US Forest Services’ “Forests with a Future Brochure” brochure [Source: US Forest Service]The US Forest Service distributes a pamphlet promoting the agency’s amendment (see August 6, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan, which calls for more logging. In one section of the pamphlet, put together by a public relations firm, there is a series of six black-and-white photos taken at different times over a span of 80 years. The first picture, taken in 1909, shows a forested area with large trees spaced far apart. Each of the following pictures, taken at the same spot, show how the forest became denser over time. The photo-chronology suggests that the first picture represents how forests should appear in their natural state. But in Spring 2004, it is learned that the first picture had been taken after the area had been logged. Furthermore, the pictures were actually taken in Montana, not the Sierra Nevadas. It also turns out that the photos had similarly been used before by the agency to promote other forest-thinning initiatives. [USDA Forest Service, 1/2004 pdf file; Associated Press, 4/12/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Matt Mathes

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) auctions off oil and gas leases for 14 parcels of federal land located near Dinosaur Monument in Colorado and Utah. The leases—totaling some 5,000 acres—include areas that were previously identified by the agency as having wilderness quality but which lost their protected status as part of a settlement between the state of Utah and the BLM (see April 11, 2003). A number of the leases—some selling for as little as $5 per acre—are purchased by contributors to President Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign. [Salt Lake Tribune, 2/14/2004; Washington Post, 3/1/2004] According to the Environmental Working Group, the area includes seven Mexican spotted owl habitats, 12 golden eagle habitats and four peregrine falcon habitats. [Washington Post, 3/1/2004; Environmental Working Group, 12/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Kathleen Clarke

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The US Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the Pacific fisher, a rare relative of weasels, otters and minks, is at risk of extinction and warrants federal protection, but says that the agency lacks the funds needed to adequately protect the species. The Fish and Wildlife Service says it will make the animal a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Pacific fisher’s status will be reviewed annually until it is either added to the list or until the species’ population recovers to a level that no longer warrants federal protection. Critics complain that not only is the federal government failing in its obligation to protect endangered species, but it is pursuing policies that damage its habitat, such as the Bush administration’s forest preservation policies that encourage increased logging (see December 3, 2003). [Associated Press, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Fish and Wildlife Service

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Forest Service conducts an internal analysis which concludes that outsourcing the work of its Content Analysis Team (CAT) (see March 2003) will not save US taxpayers any money. In fact, the study estimates that hiring private consultants would cost approximately $425,000 more than keeping the work in-house. [Associated Press, 11/14/2003; Missoulian, 11/15/2003; High Country News, 4/26/2004] No study is conducted to determine whether outside consultants could do the work better than the Forest Service’s experts. [High Country News, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: US Forest Service, Content Analysis Team (CAT), Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

The Associated Press publishes a report summarizing its investigation of the US Forest Service’s amendment (see January 22, 2004) to the 2001 Nevada Forest Plan. The report reveals that the Forest Service ignored analysis that did not support increased logging (see January 22, 2004) and that the data used to justify the plan had been manipulated. For example, one of the claims made in the amendment was that wildfires in the Sierra Nevadas were responsible for the destruction of an average of 4.5 owl sites a year. But the AP found that this was not true. “At least seven of 18 sites listed by the agency as owl habitat destroyed by wildfires are green, flourishing and occupied by the rare birds of prey.” The AP’s conclusions were based on interviews with several Forest Service employees, hundreds of pages of documents, and on-the-ground tours of the sites that were cited in the Forest Service’s amendment. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004] When the Forest Service is asked to comment on these discoveries, it denies that there was “an intentional attempt to mislead.” Forest Service regional spokesman Matt Mathes says, “We went with what we knew at the time. They were lost at the time the draft went out. Things change on the ground.” He tries to reason that sometimes the owls will live “among black stems for as long as two years after a wildfire goes through. But eventually the owls do leave.” He also insists that despite the findings, the agency’s policy is sound. “Whether or not there is a mix-up or a simple error, our thought process in reaching the decision was not based only on what has happened but what will happen in the future,” he says. [Associated Press, 8/6/2004]

Entity Tags: Matt Mathes, US Forest Service

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Secretary of Interior Gale Norton resigns. In her resignation letter to President Bush she thanks him and praises him for “great work in the face of hurricanes, record-setting wildfires and droughts, acrimonious litigation, and expanded post 9/11 security responsibilities.” [CNN, 3/10/2006] Norton, who has been criticized by environmental groups for opening public lands up to timber (see December 11, 2002), mining, and oil and gas interests (see April 11, 2003, October 8, 2003, and January 21, 2004), will be hired as a key legal advisor for Royal Dutch Shell PLC in December. [New West, 12/27/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Royal Dutch/Shell, Gale A. Norton

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record

Warren Washington, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, accuses the Bush administration of suppressing climate change data, limiting journalists’ access to government scientists, and rewriting news releases on global climate change. According to Washington, Bush administration officials are “trying to confuse the public.” He says these tactics are taking place at numerous federal agencies, including NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA ), and the US Forest Service. NOAA spokesman Jordan St. John denies the allegations. “NOAA is an open and transparent agency,” he says. “It’s unfair to the people who work at this agency that this kind of characterization keeps being made. Hansen said it once (see After December 6, 2005), and it took on a life of its own and just keeps getting repeated.” [Rocky Mountain News, 6/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Warren Washington, Bush administration (43), Jordan St. John

Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Global Warming

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