"The Darth Vader of forest policy"


If you paid any attention at all to national forest issues during Bush's tenure, you heard the name "Mark Rey" a lot. Appointed Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment, Rey oversaw the Forest Service for eight years. From the start, environmental groups were wary of Rey's logging-friendly record, while his supporters praised Rey's expertise in forestry and his emphasis on local involvement.

Over the years, HCN covered Rey's often-controversial actions extensively: helping create the "Healthy Forests" plans; "streamlining" the forest planning process; attempting to sell off thousands of acres of public lands; shutting down  a Forest Service team that analyzed public comments; planning the closure of thousands of national forest campgrounds and sites.

Now, three months out of office, Rey spoke to Martin Nie (associate professor of natural resource policy at the University of Montana)  about his years as undersecretary. Nie asked some incisive and fairly pointed questions; Rey answered in his usual style, neatly evading some, and replying to others with exhaustively detailed, bordering-on-pedantic responses. The 38-page transcript is posted on Headwaters News:

On his bid to undo the Clinton roadless rule and replace it with a state-by-state process:

In the case of trying to do a nationwide rule, you know you can get all the political closure you want to finally end the debate. You can have the president of the United States stand on the side of a ridge in southern Virginia and announce the outcome, but as the courts have told us, it’s hard to do justice to all the technical detail that is required to make the decision sound from the standpoint of a reviewing judge.

On the other hand, if you deal with this on a forest-by-forest basis, you can—by virtue of the fact that you have a lot less data to deal with—deal with it more intelligently.

On his attempt to "clarify" federal road easements that would have made it easier for Plum Creek Timber to develop millions of acres of Montana inholdings:

The last thing we need is the Forest Service slopping over and confusing and otherwise confounding regulatory decisions that (the states are) already poised to make.

On whether there was ever an issue that he advanced as Undersecretary despite his personal opposition to that issue:

Nope. I always prided myself in being able to mold the policy to that which I supported so at the end of the day I was either oblivious to the fact that I opposed it or clever enough to change it.

On who his most formidable adversary was:

Well, if you try to understand the interest that you’re working with, what motivates them, what are the external variables that they’re reacting to, what are their objectives, their priorities, they cease to become adversaries. It’s really hard to call somebody you’ve gotten to understand that well your adversary. And if they cease to become adversaries, they cease to become very formidable. So I’d be hard pressed to call anybody that I’ve interacted with at any length, an adversary.

So Rey was a Hack; the Forest Circus is still just that.
Apr 24, 2009 01:56 AM
The title is apt, but folks shouldn't breathe easy because Obama was elected. The president recently signed off on allocating a quarter billion dollars for "hazardous fuels" logging projects as part of the economic stimulus bill--the same "hazardous fuels" projects under the Healthy Forests Restoration Act that Mark Rey schemed up.

Somebody needs to call Obama's bluff. His lofty rhetoric calls for restoring science to its proper role--requiring peer-reviewed science to guide the decision-making process. Look a little closer though; the fine print says nobody can hold the government to it. The result: even more "hazardous fuels" projects completely unmoored from science. The agency's own scientists have even called the agency out on it.

It it were politics as usual, I'd probably just roll my eyes. Unfortunately, the problem isn't that simple. Every one of these unnecessary logging projects contributes to our climate change catastrophe. The Forest Service is likely one of this country's largest contributors to global warming. Think of all that carbon dioxide that would be sequestered if the agency didn't hack down those trees with no science to justify the logging. As Americans, we have to demand more out of our government.

It is simply inequitable to force taxpayers to bestow a dubious benefit upon a small group when a true benefit could accrue to the public as a whole. If the taxpayers are going to subsidize logging projects to benefit private homeowners, the projects should only take place where they are scientifically justified—within 30 meters of the landowners’ homes. Otherwise, the federal government will likely continue to be the nation's largest carrier of an unneeded insurance policy.

Forget Mark Rey. He might have been a hack, but the Forest Service is still driving us off the carbon cliff. They have a statutory mandate to get the cut out, and they'll adhere to that mandate even if it is at the expense of science and the environment.

A new science-based approach with specific, measurable, and enforceable standards is needed if the Forest Service is going to help avert the extensive and catastrophic impacts the agency itself is predicting.


Exec. Mem., 74 C.F.R. 10671 (March 9, 2009) http://www.whitehouse.gov/[…]/ ("Science and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including [] protection of the environment, and [] mitigation of the threat of climate change…The public must be able to trust the science and scientific process informing public policy decisions.").

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, 123 stat. 115

Gail Kimbell, U.S. Forest Service Chief, Managing Forests in an Era of Climate Change: Perspectives from the U.S., Address at the Forest Service 2008 Adaptation Conference (August 25, 2008) (“[C]limatic disruption will have disastrous consequences in many parts of the world.”).

JACK D. COHEN, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, FOREST SERVICE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN RESEARCH STATION, What is the Wildland Fire Threat to Homes 8-9 (2000); U.S.D.A. FOREST SERVICE FIRE SCIENCES LABORATORY, EXPECTATION AND EVALUATION OF FUEL MANAGEMENT OBJECTIVES 352, 358 (2003) (“Research findings indicate that a home’s characteristics and the characteristics of a home’s immediate surroundings within 30 meters principally determine the potential for wildland-urban fire destruction.”) available at http://www.landsinfo.org/[…]/ (Finney_Cohen_2003).