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Hear him out

Editorial

Don't reject Bush's forest planout of hand; lets hear the details first

President Bush doesn't arrive in the Rogue Valley until today, but advance news of what he will say here has already ignited a firestorm.

Bush is expected to propose changes in federal rules governing appeals of actions affecting the environment. The goal is to make it easier to approve selective logging on federal timber lands to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires such as those that have consumed half a million acres of forest in Oregon this summer.

Environmental groups are already manning the barricades, complaining that the plan would dismantle 30 years of environmental protection and open the nation's forests to destructive logging.

Let's all simmer down and hear what the president has to say.

The plan Bush is to announce today grew out of a 10-year strategy adopted in May by administration officials, governors, local and tribal officials, academics and ' drum roll, please ' environmentalists. Their goal was to find consensus on the treatment of federal forests.

As we well know in this neck of the woods, consensus is mighty hard to come by when you are dealing with some people's livelihoods and other people's strongly held convictions about how humans should treat their environment. But, as we've said before, consensus is the only way we will make any progress toward reversing the process that has led to the destruction of countless acres of public property this year.

It is important to note that Bush can't make these kinds of changes all by himself. Congress will have to approve much of the plan.

Given the Bush administration's record on the environment so far, that's probably a good thing.

We certainly don't favor opening the federal forests to wholesale logging. At the same time, lawsuits designed to prevent any logging at all are hardly a constructive contribution to solving the problem of forest health.

Some middle ground must be found, and soon, if we are to have any hope of reversing the deterioration of our forests.

That middle ground is likely to involve some cutting of commercially valuable trees in order to help pay the staggering cost of thinning the small trees and brush that have no commercial value. A proposal from Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Larry Craig, R-Idaho, represents just such a compromise.

We call on the defenders of the environment not to judge the president's proposals until they have heard the details, and then to participate in shaping the legislation that will follow.

And Mr. President, we call on you to maintain that spirit of consensus that is so vital to the success of any reforms you seek. Invite everyone to the table. Don't lock environmental groups or the public out of the decision-making process.

This isn't about giving the timber industry back the free rein they had in the early 1980s, when over-cutting of old-growth trees triggered the backlash that profoundly changed our local economy.

It's also not about ending logging forever. Like it or not, we need wood. And we need to be able to do what's necessary to make our forests healthy and fire-resistant once more.

It's about working together to find solutions we can all live with.

Let's get started. And let's start by listening.