Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) today was joined by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), as well as Representatives Nick Rahall (D-WV) and Jay Inslee (D-WA) in releasing a General Accounting Office (GAO) report critical of the Forest Service’s efforts to include communities in forest management plans. Specifically, the report focused on the newly implemented stewardship contracts and the lack of effort to include local communities in these contracts. "Despite repeatedly expressing a desire to increase the role of local communities in federal forest management, the Bush Administration and the Forest Service are failing to adequately meet this goal, as the GAO concluded," said Harkin. "This is just one more example of how, when it comes to the environment and public participation, this Administration says one thing in Washington and does another in the field." Bingaman echoed Harkin’s concern. "There is a big disconnect between the Administration’s public rhetoric and what it is actually telling forest land managers on the ground," Bingaman said. "For almost four years, with fanfare, the Administration has boasted about its 'communication, cooperation and consultation.' Yet this GAO study shows that the Administration has consistently kept the public out of the important decisions being made about management of our national forests." The report found the Forest Service had not provided project managers in the field with adequate guidance on community involvement. Several managers expressed their desire to include local communities in discussions at the outset, but felt they didn’t have sufficient guidance on how to go about involving the community. The report recommended increased guidance that would "identify, and encourage the use of, best practices in seeking and incorporating community input, and establish minimum requirements for seeking community involvement on each stewardship contracting project." "This GAO review included only a very small number of completed stewardship contracts and we expect to continue monitoring the use of these contracts in the future. We hope that the Forest Service will give careful consideration to GAO’s recommendations to make greater efforts at community involvement in the future," said Harkin and Bingaman. The report is available at http://www.gao.gov.
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