Tahoe area can benefit from forest plan

If you want a presidential-election issue closer to home than Yucca Mountain, look no further than President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, which could help protect Lake Tahoe from devastating wildfires.

It rose to the forefront this week when the Bush campaign called a telephone conference with journalists to counter Sen. John Kerry's criticism of the program, which was enacted by Congress last year.

Like most issues, the Healthy Forest Initiative is broad enough to contain aspects we can both support and oppose. It will be up to forest managers, however, to carry out the plans in ways that are efficient and cost-effective without doing lasting harm to the environment.

For the Lake Tahoe region, the plan should be directly beneficial. Because the lake is heavily populated and its forests are fire-prone, it should be a top priority for funding that will thin areas closest to communities and reduce the chances fire will threaten lives and structures.

Because the act eased some of the restrictions on logging, the work can move faster. That's the good news for the Lake Tahoe area.

On the environmental side, however, the Healthy Forest plan calls for logging forests far away from communities as a means of paying for fuels-reduction work near where people live. Not only does it alarm people who want those forests to be off limits to logging, there are doubts the Forest Service can actually make money from timber sales. Traditionally, it's been a money-loser.

The Bush administration was right to push through the Healthy Forests Initiative as an answer to the need to protect residents in the West from wildfires and to move forward on long-delayed projects to improve forest health.

Now the challenge is to follow through on the promises of the act.


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