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Thursday, September 30, 2004

[+/-]
 Bush order guts twenty years of wildlife protections

The LA Times (reg. req.) is reporting that under a rule issued yesterday by the Bush administration, national forest managers won't have to adhere to strict wildlife protections that have been in place for more than two decades.

The rule is not the last word on the protections, which since 1982 have directed the US Forest Service to manage national forests to maintain "viable populations" of fish and wildlife. Officials could not say when a final regulation would be published.

Issued in 1982 by the Reagan administration, the viability requirement was often cited in lawsuits that forced the Forest Service to reduce timber cutting in regions with declining populations of owls and other animals.

Many conservationists consider it a key safeguard for wildlife.

It states that until final regulations are issued, forest managers can follow the 1982 regulations if they wish but that they are "not in effect." It directs managers to base forest plans on "the best available science." There is no mention of species viability in the temporary rule, but Forest Service spokesman Joseph Walsh said it remained a Forest Service concern. "What we're trying to do is ensure all species have a viable habitat," he said. "If that's not good enough, I don't know what to say."

Environmentalists are calling Wednesday's edict a precursor to a formal abandonment of the viability protections.

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