The Grinch in the White House

Newsflash: The White House now wants to impose a 30-day public-comment period for the cutting of the National Christmas tree from the National Forests -- which could make it tough to get the tree to the Mall on time. They also plan to cancel some weddings, a foot race, your Aunt Tillie's 70th birthday picnic, and 1,400 other public uses of America's public forests. "If anyone in America knows a reason why this couple may not be lawfully wed, speak now or forever hold your peace" has just taken on a whole new bureaucratic meaning.

Why the sudden Grinch tactics? Because the Forest Service is deliberately and maliciously misapplying a court ruling to create public confusion. This after a federal judge in California agreed with the Sierra Club and other forest-protection groups that using the forests for clear-cutting and salvage logging was not in the same category as selecting national Christmas trees or celebrating weddings, and that before the Forest Service logged a watershed it ought to let its owners, the American people, have their say.

But once the judge issued his order, the Forest Service announced that it had "no choice" but to cancel all these other proposed activities, in spite of the fact that the lawyers for the Sierra Club not only indicated that they thought the judge had placed no such requirement on the government but had also offered to sign a legal agreement freeing up the non-controversial projects. It is really quite astonishing that the Forest Service asserts that it cannot tell the difference between logging and a picnic. But, then again, some may have suspected that all along.

The Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest Region of the National Forest Service wrote to her staff:

"In the meantime, Dale (Forest Service Chief Bosworth) and I both want you to know it is imperative we follow the Judge's order and the Chief's direction. We are an organization that obeys the law. I know many of you are currently bearing the brunt of the criticism as people come in to get their permits and find themselves unable to pursue their business, recreation, and other forest-related activities.... I know that it is hard to be "can't do" when our core value is to be "can do." I'm sitting here in my office on a rainy day in Portland hoping it might help just a little bit to know that I deeply appreciate your efforts."

(This from an agency that routinely loses lawsuit after lawsuit because, when it comes to logging, it just can't bring itself to say "no" -- even to comply with the law.) The real purpose of the cancellations, it's pretty clear, was to put the blame on those who want to protect the forests from logging. But once again, with Karl Rove distracted by his own problems, the Administration seems to have gone too far in its efforts to manipulate the public. The Arizona Sun, which didn't agree with the Sierra Club on the merits of the original suit, still said:

"We fail to see how any reasonable interpretation of the ruling supports such a draconian response or the refusal to negotiate a clarification.

"That leaves us with an explanation that has become all too common with this administration: the elevation of hardball, partisan politics over negotiated compromise."

In Montana, the Service had to backtrack and admit that it was keeping some members of the public out without justification -- even under this bizarre scenario.