"Let the extremes of the issue fight their battles in court. The reasonable 90 percent can reasonably solve their differences at the round table of consensus and compromise." So said Mark Rey to a group of University of California forestry students last year.
It's a message befitting a nominee for Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment. But President Bush's choice for the post overseeing the U.S. Forest Service has engendered anything but consensus. Though Rey's supporters call him one of the nation's foremost experts in forest management and a dedicated public servant, to his opponents, he is closer to Darth Vader, a shrewd and sinister industry operative.
Much of that reputation comes from his work on the infamous 1995 salvage logging rider, which temporarily suspended environmental laws to allow more logging on public lands. Rey, 48, is credited with being the mastermind behind the law, which then-President Clinton claimed he could not veto because it was attached to a spending bill that included relief for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. The so-called "logging without laws" bill spawned civil disobedience in Oregon and other states (HCN, 9/2/96: Last line of defense).
Andy Stahl, executive director of Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, claims credit for the Darth Vader nickname, and says Rey is "as close to a Machiavellian factor as we have in forest policy."
Other environmentalists are more blunt: "The Bush administration could not have selected a more divisive and inflammatory nominee to oversee national forests," says Michael Francis, director of forest programs for The Wilderness Society.
An industry insider
An Eagle Scout who grew up in Canton, Ohio, Rey attended the University of Michigan, where he graduated with degrees in wildlife management and forestry before earning a master's degree in natural resources policy and administration in 1975. He has worked for the National Forest Products Association, American Forest Resources Alliance and American Forest & Paper Association, all timber industry groups.
Rey's political breakthrough came in 1995, when he became a staff member for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, working for Sens. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Larry Craig, R-Idaho. His position has made him a key player in virtually all forestry and conservation legislation during the last three Congresses.
It has also made him a target for environmentalists. Rey has "hoodwinked" people with seemingly subtle changes to legislation that have been devastating to forests, says Steve Holmer, campaign coordinator for American Lands Alliance, a national environmental group.
Last year, Rey helped pass legislation that restructured payments to county schools and roads from the sale of federal timber. Rey has publicly opposed Forest Service policies, including the agency's attempts to ban snowmobiles, limit hiker numbers, and raise prices on ski lift tickets. He has also fought new national forest wilderness areas.
Charlie Brown with power
But where some environmentalists see a puppet of industry, others see a smart tactician whose views have become broader and more moderate over the years. Though he declined to be interviewed for this story, Rey said in his talk at University of California that his support for access to public lands is part of an agenda he calls collaborative stewardship. In place of the Clinton administration's approach to Western resource management, which Rey labels "command and control," he called for increased public involvement from local groups.
Rey said he does not advocate another Sagebrush Rebellion - "something none of us want or need" - but a philosophy that accepts humans as part of dynamic and changing ecosystems. To arrive at this, "we are all going to have to sit down with our neighbors and talk," Rey said.
It's a philosophy that reflects Rey's realization that public lands have a much broader purpose than serving as the playground of the timber industry, says Lynn Jungwirth, chair of the Communities Committee of the Seventh American Forest Congress, a group that promotes local participation in natural resource issues.
In addition to conventional loggers, Rey has met with tree planters, mushroom pickers and others who harvest nontraditional forest products. He has confidence in the Forest Service, which could help transform it from "everybody's whipping boy" to an agency capable of sound forest management decisions, Jungwirth says.
"It's a myth that he's this big scary person operating behind an iron curtain," says Maia Enzer, who worked closely with Rey during her seven years as director of forest policy for American Forests, a national conservation group. "Mark Rey is like Charlie Brown with power. We can work with him."
But others who have worked with him question Rey's commitment to collaboration. Greg Aplet, a forest ecologist with The Wilderness Society, says Rey and industry officials supported community-based coalitions during the Clinton administration because they were one of the few avenues to timber harvests. With power back in industry hands, Aplet worries that support for collaboration is slipping away.
If the real Mark Rey is to emerge as undersecretary for natural resources, it will depend on the Senate. His nomination goes to the Senate Agriculture Committee and, if confirmed there, to the full Senate for a floor vote.
Jane Braxton Little writes from Greenville, California.
YOU CAN CONTACT ...
- Greg Aplet, The Wilderness Society, 303/650-5818.
- Mark Rey, staff member, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, (202/224-2878);
- Michael Klein, American Forest & Paper Association, 202/463-2478.
Copyright © 2001 HCN and Jane Braxton Little