Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Selling the forest for the trees

In a gift to timber industry patrons, the Bush administration is thinning national forests and cutting down government scientists who stand in the way.

From a
Salon article by Rebecca Clarren

Dec. 22, 2004 | In eastern Oregon, amid the land where trees grow wider than queen-size beds, Forest Service biologist Kristine Shull has become afraid to speak the truth. She tried that once, and under the industry-friendly Bush administration, she nearly lost the job she has held for more than 15 years. Last fall, Shull's supervisor proposed selling to a timber company more than 3,000 acres covered in part with big, old trees that had been scorched by wildfire -- the kind of trees that birds and animals rely on for their habitat and are critical to keeping forests healthy.

The timber sale, though, would have disregarded federal regulations that prohibit the agency from cutting trees bigger than 21 inches in diameter -- unless the trees are dead. But these trees were not dead; they were green and broad, providing good habitat for the wildlife in the area Shull was charged to monitor. Even so, her manager wanted Shull to sign off on an analysis that said the trees were dying and were not providing habitat for animals. When Shull balked, she says, her superiors in the agency repeatedly asked her to change her assessment. One told her that if she didn't "get this done," she'd lose her job. When she snickered at the comment, she says he slapped his hand on the table and said, "I mean it." Shull didn't change her mind, but the pressure at work did not let up. She was told she wouldn't receive an expected raise, and for months she was ignored by her supervisors and some of her co-workers. Ultimately Shull developed high blood pressure, and her doctor recommended a month of medical leave.


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