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The speech

Preventing devastating fires isn't political, president says

CENTRAL POINT ' President George W. Bush called for a new common sense forest policy Thursday that would make it easier to cut trees in fire-prone areas across the West.

Our job is to do everything we can to prevent forest fires from happening in the first place, he said, outlining a plan that would expedite cutting trees and flammable brush on federal lands.

— — — — Some details from Bush's forest plan

President George W. Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative directs Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman and Interior Secretary Gale Norton to improve land-management regulations to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires by restoring forest health.

Some of the major components of the plan, which was introduced Thursday in Medford, are: Improving procedures for developing and implementing forest-fuel reduction and forest restoration in collaboration with local governments. Reducing the number of overlapping environmental reviews for such projects. Developing guidance for weighing short-term risks against long-term benefits of reducing forest fuels. Authorizing land management agencies to enter into stewardship contracts with businesses, nonprofit organizations and local communities. Stewardship contracts would allow contractors to keep wood products in exchange for the labor of thinning trees and brush and removing dead wood. Expediting forest-fuel reduction in high priority areas. Ensuring that judges consider the long-term risks of harm to people, property and the environment in court challenges to forest-health projects. Removing needless administrative obstacles and providing authority to allow timber projects to proceed without delay when they are consistent with the Northwest Forest Plan. Renewing the commitment in the Northwest Forest Plan to harvest — billion board feet of timber annually on federal forestland in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

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? — ? — ? — ? — — — — In wide-ranging remarks that had the air of a campaign speech, the president also urged Congress to hold down taxes to encourage economic growth, called for medical malpractice insurance reform and promised to pursue the war on terrorism to victory.

Bush addressed a friendly, invitation-only crowd of more than 5,000 people at the Jackson County Expo after visiting the site of the Squire fire, which burned near Ruch in July. They responded with applause more than 60 times during the president's 47 minutes on the dais.

We're here to express our deepest condolences to those whose lives have been affected by these fires, he said, and to thank the yellow shirts, the hard-working firefighters.

He said preventing devastating wildfires is not a political deal. It's not a Republican idea, it's not a Democratic idea, it's an American idea to preserve our forests.

Bush called the federal government's present forest policy misguided and drew applause. It doesn't work. We need to thin. We need to make the forests healthy by using some common sense.

Bush called for setting priorities that would allow thinning forests in dangerous areas ' dangerous to communities, dangerous to habitat, dangerous to recreational areas. There are some high-priority areas that we need to declare emergencies and get to thinning now before it's too late.

He denounced endless lawsuits that have prevented some thinning projects on federal forestland from proceeding, and called for eliminating unnecessary regulations in federal forest management.

There's a fine balance between people expressing their selves and their opinions and using litigation to keep the United States of America from enacting common-sense forest policy.

Bush offered few details of the plan in his remarks. Copies of his Healthy Forests Initiative released after his speech describe the president's intention to work with Congress on legislation that would expedite implementation of fuels reduction and forest restoration projects.

The initiative also would authorize federal land managers to enter into long-term stewardship contracts with the private sector, nonprofit organizations and communities. The contractors could keep the wood products that would come from thinning projects in exchange for the service of thinning trees and brush.

Bush called for enacting portions of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan that include an annual harvest of — billion board feet of timber on federal land. Lawsuits and administrative appeals filed by environmental activists have blocked some timber sales since the plan was enacted. The initiative calls for removing needless administrative obstacles and providing authority to allow timber projects to proceed without delay when they are consistent with the Northwest Forest Plan.

The prior administration developed and agreed to this plan, he said. Congress needs to pass the laws necessary to implement the plan.

The president linked healthy forests to a healthy economy, then called on Congress to make recent tax cuts permanent for the sake of economic growth, for the sake of job creation, for the sake of helping people stay on their farms and ranches.

Bush said frivolous and junk lawsuits are making it harder for Americans to get access to health care and running up the cost of medicine.

These lawsuits are denying people who have actually been injured their day in court. They're making it hard to find doctors.

For the sake of good, quality, affordable and accessible health care, we need medical liability reform in Washington, D.C., and we need it now, before people lose their doctors in rural America.

Turning to the war on terrorism, Bush said he will not rest until this homeland is secure.

He called on Congress to approve his plan to create a Cabinet-level department of homeland security that would include more than 100 government agencies that are now scattered everywhere in Washington, which makes it awfully hard to hold anybody to account.

Bush chided some members of Congress for being more interested in protecting their own turf than they are (in) protecting the American people, and said he would not accept a homeland security bill that has a book that thick trying to micro-manage the department, when all I'm asking for is the same flexibility that they've given to other presidents.

He reminded the crowd that the war on terrorism will be different from America's previous conflicts.

This is the kind of war where sometimes you'll see us move, and sometimes you won't. It's the kind of war where we can be just as effective by cutting off their money as (by) hauling them in.

Bush encouraged Southern Oregon residents to become part of a culture of service, of serving something greater than yourself in life, that has emerged since the attacks of Sept. 11.

It's this sense of service, this sense of understanding there's something greater than ourselves in life, this sense of working to make America the very best it can be that allows me to say with certainty that out of the evil done to America will come incredible good.

Timber-industry supporters praised the president's initiative as a breath of fresh air in the long stalemate over federal forest policy.

I believe he sincerely understands the problems of dealing with forest health,said Dave Hill, executive vice president of the Southern Oregon Timber Industries Association. I was real impressed with his intention to work under the Northwest Forest Plan to provide an annual cut of — billion board feet. That should produce jobs and help our economy.

Oregon's Democrat in the Senate, Ron Wyden, was more cautious.

I'm very pleased the president came, he said. I've had several opportunities to talk with him, and he made it clear he wanted to learn more about federal forestry issues. Texas (where the president served as governor) has no federal forestland.

Wyden said it will be important to bring all the stakeholders to the table for discussions about new forest policy because the issues have been so polarized.

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492, or e-mail