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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 23:38 GMT 00:38 UK
Bush eases US logging restrictions
A firefighter tackles the fire in the Sequoia National Forest
Fire scorched more than six million acres of US forest
US President George W Bush has announced plans to revise the policy on logging in forests following the disastrous fires that swept through much of the country this summer.


We need to thin, to make them healthy by using common sense...it makes sense to clear brush

US President George W Bush
Speaking in Oregon during a three-day tour of the American West - one of the worst affected regions - Mr Bush said that current US forest policy was caught up in red tape and must be revised to prevent further catastrophe and improve local economies.

"I want our forest healthy and I want our economy healthy," he said.

Before his speech Mr Bush toured the south-western region of the state, severely damaged by a fire which burned almost 200,000 hectares (500,000 acres) of land.

'Common sense'

Mr Bush criticised current US policy, which does not permit the clearing of brush which provide wild fires with a source of fuel.

A giant sequoia tree
Environmentalists claim the proposed laws would endanger protected trees

"We need to thin, to make them healthy by using common sense...it makes sense to clear brush," he said.

The plan would make it easier for timber companies to get approval to cut wood and clear out brush in national forests prone to fires.

In a thinly veiled warning to environmentalists, Mr Bush attacked the lawsuits and litigation that he said bogged down attempts to reform forest policy, arguing that the thinning of forests could create 100,000 jobs in the western region.

"Citizens have the right to use this country's courts but its a fine balance between people expressing themselves and preventing US citizens from enacting common sense," he said.

The speech reflects the concerns of some politicians in western states - including Senator John McCain of Arizona and Arizona Governor Jane Hull - who have blamed environmentalists for the intensity of this year's fires.

They say their appeals and lawsuits to stop logging around the region have stalled attempts to clear the underbrush.

'Political agenda'

Protesters had gathered at the scene as Mr Bush visited of the scene of one of Oregon's worst fires in Squires Peak, one holding a placard saying "More forest, less Bush".


We're very concerned they will use the fires to further an agenda they've had for a long time

Wilderness Society vice president Linda Lance
The plan - parts of which must be approved by US Congress - would also enable government agencies to negotiate contracts giving timber companies and other entities the right to sell the wood products they harvest in exchange for removing them from the forest, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Environmentalists have countered by accusing the Bush administration of gutting national forests, destroying protected trees and capitulating to timber industry interests in reward for their contributions to Mr Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.

"We're very concerned they will use the fires to further an agenda they've had for a long time - and that is to change key environmental laws that serve to protect the forests from logging," Wilderness Society vice president Linda Lance told the AP.

The issue of national forest protection in the US has proved particularly contentious this summer, following a series of devastating fires in several states.

More than six million acres of forest have been burned in fires in states as far as California, Alaska, Arizona and Colorado, more than twice as much as would be expected on average, the US Forest Service said.

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The BBC's David Willis
"It's a logging plan thinly disguised as fire prevention"

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25 Jul 02 | Americas
04 Jul 02 | Americas
12 Jun 02 | Americas
28 Jun 02 | Americas
26 Jun 02 | Americas
25 Jun 02 | Americas
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