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Bark: Trump policies will bite public land

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Scientific data review, hiring freeze, climate change stance concern advocacy group

FILE PHOTO - A side channel of the Clackamas River runs through the Big Bottom wilderness area, located in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  Leaders at Bark, a grassroots advocacy group for the forest, are concerned about the influence President Trump's policies will have on public land throughout the U.S.An organization dedicated to protecting the Mt. Hood National Forest believes President Donald Trump's policies will bring negative ramifications to public land in the United States.

Brenna Bell, an attorney for the grassroots advocacy group Bark, characterized Trump's environmental policies as an "unprecedented disaster."

Bell cited Trump's mandated review of scientific data, hiring freeze and removal of climate change policies from the White House website as particularly troublesome.

She said the employment freeze — which stopped hiring for all new and existing positions in the federal government except for those in public safety, national security and the military to reduce spending — and proposed budget cuts will hinder several projects in the Mt. Hood National Forest, including decommissioning logging roads no longer in use.

Bell said these decommissioning projects are valuable to maintaining the forest's habitat and resources. She also pointed out that they create local jobs, noting that Estacada-based O'Malley Brothers Corporation worked with Bark and the Forest Service on a project of this nature.

Additionally, Bell expressed concern that Trump's policies will hinder the flow of information pertaining to topics that have influence beyond public land, such as climate change.

Shortly after Trump's inauguration, the page detailing climate change information and policy was removed from the White House website, and Trump later mandated that studies from the Environmental Protection Agency's scientists be reviewed by political appointees before they are released to the public.

"I'm worried that providing less access to information will become the trend," Bell said. "That's concerning for Bark because our mission is to help public servants be transparent and get information to the public about why decisions are being made, and the science that they're based on."

Rather than a page dedicated to climate change, the White House website now features an "America First Energy Plan," which only mentions climate change in reference to removing "eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule." Launched in 2013, the Climate Action Plan strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which most scientists consider to be the main cause of global warming, from power plant operations.

The writers of Trump's energy plan counter that lifting these restrictions will increase the wages of American workers by more than $30 billion over the next seven years. Trump also took a stance for workers when he visited Eugene last May and promised to revive timber jobs.

But some are concerned that the price of these policies goes beyond money. Bell said the removal of climate change information and policy from the White House website is "appalling."

"We've moved away from a major value, and that's huge," she said. "That could have the longest ranging, biggest impact."

The issue hits home for Bark in part because of the potential benefits the Mt. Hood National Forest offers in combatting climate change. Several years ago, a report by The Wilderness Society found that the forest was among the top 10 in the country with the potential to store carbon in its trees, shrubs and soil.

"The forest has a huge ability to sequester carbon, but that's lost when it's logged," Bell said.

She added that Trump's administration — like those of his predecessors — has much influence over public lands, as the U.S. Forest Service is under the Department of Agriculture, and the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service are managed by the Department of the Interior.

"Ecosystem management can be influenced by political whims," she said. "Setting the tone, direction and expectations of the Forest Service can be political. We've moved away from seeing the forest as a climate change solution and are looking at what we can extract from it."

In this time of transition, Bell encouraged anyone who wishes to advocate for the National Forests, National Parks and other public lands to connect with their representatives and other leaders.

"Oregon is blessed with strong federal representatives who support public lands," she said. "We need to ensure that delegation keeps standing strong. (The Forest Service needs) to know the public values their work managing the land's diverse benefits."

She added that it's also beneficial to "get to know the forest."

"Bark offers a free monthly hike (in the Mt. Hood National Forest)," she said. "We show the special places in the forest, the threats to them and and ways to protect them."

For more information on the monthly hike and other activities, visit www.bark-out.org.

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