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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 11, 2003
Press Gaggle by Claire Buchan
Aboard Air Force One En route Tucson, Arizona
9:07 A.M. MDT
MS. BUCHAN: I'm going to start by telling you a little bit about the President's day. I'll take some questions, and then we have our senior administration official here, who will talk to you about the President's visit today on the Healthy Forest Initiative.
The President received his national security and intelligence briefings this morning on board Air Force One. When he arrives in Tucson, he will be met by a Freedom Corps volunteer, whose name is Deborah Toland, T-o-l-a-n-d. She is 60 years old, and in 2002 she responded to the President's call for citizen service. She joined the executive board of the Citizen Corps Council of Homeland Security for Southern Arizona. And for the past 18 months she has volunteered as the Council's director of agency liaison, working with the neighborhood watch program. And during the recent wild fires that swept through Summerhaven, where the President will be visiting, Deborah was instrumental in bringing together the American Red Cross and other agencies to coordinate local mental health effort responses. And for three days, she worked with other agency representatives to deliver food and supplies to families who were returning to their damaged homes.
After the President meets with Deborah, he will take an aerial tour of the Coronado National Forest and the Summerhaven community, where he will view the aftermath of the Aspen fire. He will see both treated and untreated areas. He will then make remarks at Inspiration Rock to local residents, first responders, park officials, and he'll be talking about the importance of restoring our forests to good health.
The President will then depart Tucson en route to Denver. In Denver, he will also be met by a Freedom Corps volunteer, whose name -- hang on -- is Phoung, P-h-o-u-n-g, the first name. The last name is Nguyen, N-g-u-y-e-n. And Phoung was born in Ho Chi Minh City. She moved to the United States with her mother when she was five. She's 18 years old. And she has been volunteering as part of the American Red Cross Youth Corps, where she and other students have organized and implemented three projects, including graffiti removal and mural painting, gift exchange between seniors in a nearby nursing home and children at a day care facility, and in creating a field day for elementary students to promote health and fitness through exercise and fun.
The President will then participate in a Bush-Cheney 2004 fundraiser, and return to his ranch tonight.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q President Taylor ceded power, he hasn't left the country. What's the White House's response? What's our next move?
MS. BUCHAN: We are watching the situation closely. We are in touch with ECOWAS and with the Nigerians, and things seem to be proceeding as planned.
Q Does this clear the way for U.S. troops?
MS. BUCHAN: Things seem to be proceeding as planned and we are in very close contact with ECOWAS and with the Nigerians.
Q Do we still want him to leave the country?
MS. BUCHAN: Yes.
Q Still a demand? Still a condition of U.S. troops?
MS. BUCHAN: Certainly, the President has made clear throughout this that Charles Taylor needs to leave the country. And as I said, things on the ground appear to be proceeding as planned.
Q Does that mean that we could see U.S. troops going in, in the next several days?
MS. BUCHAN: I don't have any updates beyond what I've just given you.
Q Essentially, you're saying the President is waiting on any further troop decision until there's physical evidence of Taylor's departure?
MS. BUCHAN: The President has said that we will work with ECOWAS to help provide humanitarian assistance. Charles Taylor has said he would leave. And, as I said, we are in touch with the Nigerians and with ECOWAS, keeping very close -- keeping a very close eye on the situation.
Q Is it fair to say that before another step could be taken, in terms of U.S. troops, that the President would have -- Taylor would have to leave the country and go to Nigeria?
MS. BUCHAN: The President has made that extremely clear throughout this. I just don't -- there are no updates at this point, beyond what I've given you.
Q Claire, have you made any determination on whether to actively campaign for Arnold Schwarzenneger?
MS. BUCHAN: There are no changes on that. The President believes that the people of California will decide what is best for them and there are no changes. The White House has not been involved in the California recall effort.
Q No appearance with the President and Simon next week? No appearance with the President and Arnold later this week?
MS. BUCHAN: There are no plans for that at this point. The President's schedule stands as it is.
Q How about a behind-the-scenes meeting?
MS. BUCHAN: If there are any updates to the schedule, we would of course provide you with that. But the White House has not been involved in this effort and nothing has changed on that. This is a matter for the people of California.
Q Last year the President campaigned for Simon. Does he think he would make a good governor?
MS. BUCHAN: I haven't asked the President that question.
Q Will we have access to the President today?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, you'll see him at various events.
Q Access, in terms of being able to ask him questions?
MS. BUCHAN: That's always up to him.
Q Best guidance?
MS. BUCHAN: Wait and see.
Q Is he tracking -- has he been tracking the Liberia situation, do you know? I mean, has he been in constant contact?
MS. BUCHAN: The President is in very close contact. Dr. Rice is on the trip. And as I said, we're watching the situation very closely. The President received his national security and intelligence briefings on the plane this morning.
Q Is the White House skeptical that Taylor will actually finally come through? I mean, this has been sort of a -- every week there's another, you know, I'm leaving this day --
MS. BUCHAN: -- on the ground appear to be proceeding as planned.
Q Do you know roughly what time there's -- Taylor's scheduled departure?
MS. BUCHAN: I don't.
Q He's called himself the "sacrificial lamb," President Taylor, blaming President Bush for ousting him from the country. You heard that complaint in the speech yesterday, do you have anything to say about it?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, the President's concerns are for the Liberian people, who have obviously endured great suffering and he has made clear that we are committed to helping ECOWAS ensure that humanitarian aid is received.
Q Can you tell us anything else about tonight's fundraiser, in terms of who's going to be there, how many people?
MS. BUCHAN: The campaign will have additional information on that.
Q Is Denise going to be there -- or, I'm sorry, Nicolle Devenish?
MS. BUCHAN: I don't know who from the campaign staff will be at the event.
Q Can you preview Wednesday at all for us, in terms of exactly who will be at the economic meeting?
MS. BUCHAN: I'll have a full list for you tomorrow, but the President will be joined by his economic team, including Secretary Snow, Secretary Evans, NEC Chairman Friedman, CEA Chairman Mankiw, Secretary of Labor Chao, as well as others, to talk about the economy.
Q -- Evans? You said, Evans?
MS. BUCHAN: Yes.
Q Claire, what's the goal for that session? Are there new and economic initiatives we should expect, or what's to come out of this meeting?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, the President has obviously been very concerned about ensuring that we do everything possible to help make sure that there are jobs for Americans who want jobs. And he has undertaken some very aggressive initiatives, some bold initiatives to help ensure that that is the case. There's more that needs to be done. You heard the President talk just last week about the importance of passing energy legislation, about the importance of passing tort reforms.
So the President will be reviewing the current state of economic affairs with his key advisors and talking about the ongoing initiatives to help get the economy going.
Q What about future initiatives? Are they going to strategize about next steps, maybe another round of tax cuts?
MS. BUCHAN: I think the President has talked about the things he believes need to happen next, which are passing energy legislation, passing tort reform. There are important initiatives underway in Congress. His re-employment accounts initiative is something that can help people who have had a hard time finding a job, give them additional incentive and resources to get jobs.
Q Would it be fair to call this session a strategy session, though, to look ahead to next steps?
MS. BUCHAN: I think they'll continue to talk about the President's ongoing commitment to boosting economic growth and to helping provide jobs, create jobs for every American who wants a job.
Q Hey, Claire, what do you say to those who feel like the Healthy Forest Initiative is a sell-out to the timber industry?
MS. BUCHAN: Perhaps now would be an excellent time to segue to our senior administration official. So if there's nothing on any other issues, we'll have our senior administration official talk about the Healthy Forest Initiative.
Q I've made my standard request that our briefer be on the record.
Q Yes, why can't he be on the record.
MS. BUCHAN: I think we typically do these on background. If something changes, we'll have the transcript reflect that.
Q Since I'm new here, why do we have these things -- like this one -- on background, anyway?
MS. BUCHAN: So that you have an opportunity to ask questions.
Q Why can't it be on the record? What's the compelling reason for it being on background?
MS. BUCHAN: It's the decision that's been made, and you will get a great deal of valuable information and we hope you avail yourself of that opportunity. And with that, our senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. You all saw the video, so I won't go over the detail from that. The main points for today's trip was -- you know, the fact the town of Summerhaven was completely destroyed by this fire. It's a combination of year-round residence and second homes.
Q Was it completely destroyed, or was it half and half? Do you have any idea?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A big portion -- I think you'll get the specifics from the local personnel, when we do the tour. We're talking about 333 homes and structures that were destroyed, which does represent a significant portion of the housing and other buildings in the area.
And you'll see in the fly-over, we'll fly -- the helicopters will fly right over the town. It's -- and it's homes, businesses and restaurants, primarily.
This fire, itself, was big and dangerous because it was pushed by strong winds through -- over dense forests, which you heard about on the video. The combination of high density -- you know, more trees per acre than is natural, with the strong winds, makes for the kind of catastrophic situation that tore through the town.
Thinning projects that were done in the vicinity -- and there were a number of them done, and I'll highlight them on the map in a second -- significantly lessened the damage that was caused by this fire. You're talking about Boy Scout camps, Girl Scout camps, religious group retreats that were part of a thinning area. While those people were all evacuated out right when the fire started, they're going to be able to return to those campsites, so they didn't lose those campsites.
The same is true along the ridge lines. The Arizona State University runs a series of observatories along three different mountaintops, as well as quite substantial telecommunications infrastructure. I think the total value of all the infrastructure on the top of these mountain peaks is $2 billion, that's "b," billion. And because of the thinning work that had been -- it was planned and was done, without controversy, planned and done, that important infrastructure was saved during the fire.
Q How many observatories? Do you know if there --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have the exact number of telescopes, but again, there will someone on the ground that should be able to give you that detail.
Q Oh, observatories that look up. I thought they were fire observatories.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, these were actually -- these are telescopes. This is our scientific infrastructure.
Q Outer space stuff.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Outer space stuff, yes, yes. These are big, big telescopes, big, expensive telescopes that researches from all around the world come --
Q This was part of the $2 billion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, this is part of the $2 billion.
Q Environmental groups are using today's event as an opportunity to convey their point of view that the Healthy Forests Initiative is an unfair tradeoff to timber companies, and gives them too much access to forested land. Can you respond to that, please?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. First there's a remarkable level of consensus on the need for forest restoration work across the political spectrum, and certainly among all the scientists who study this effort. We spent a lot of time last year educating people on that, as well as working very closely on a bipartisan basis with the western governors to come up with a collaborative plan for selection of priority projects.
We, in fact, are looking at the legislative side for relatively limited authority, which is 20 million acres of forest restoration work out of 190 million acres that suffer from the problem of too much density. I think with that very limited authority we can collectively go after the most significant priorities.
We share the view that the wild land urban interface -- that's the forested areas near cities and towns -- is among the highest priorities. Where we differ with some of the environmental groups -- and I underline that, that's only some of the groups -- is we also think it's important to do this work where the risk of catastrophic fire could threaten municipal water systems. And also, in some key areas where there is endangered species, and other species of concern, where this work would both restore habitat to its natural conditions and prevent the loss of habitat, such habitat, in the event of a catastrophic fire.
Finally, on the timber point, the purpose of these projects is to be -- is to have them take place under scientifically supervised conditions, projects selected in a collaborative process for the purpose of restoring the forest to their natural ecological state.
That is very different from a timber sale, which occurs under a different set of programs, and that's not what's at issue here. In fact, by definition, the vast majority of these projects are not profitable. It's the taxpayer who pays for the work that's done, and those taxpayer dollars are basically paying for timber contractors who take the smaller density trees out of these forests, which currently have limited to no commercial value.
We are hopeful with our programs that we can create an infrastructure and a market for these currently non-commercial trees so that the cost to the taxpayer can be offset. So when you ask about environmental groups claiming that this is about logging, they're just dead wrong.
Q One of the other things that they've --
Q Can we have that on the record?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we're on background right now.
Q One of the other things that they've been saying in emails, at least to me, is that the problem is that this project's initiative doesn't focus on the urban interface enough. In other words, there really should be more of a focus on the homeowner, and that's where the federal money should be spent, not deep in the forest.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's actually a combination of measures that are necessary, and I want to begin
-- when you look at the 10-year comprehensive fire strategy that we put together collaboratively with the western governors, there is an important emphasis on this wild land open interface. And you will see a great number of the projects -- and the projects are moving forward even as we speak -- focusing on that area.
There's also parts at play on the part of private landowners and private homeowners. They have to look out after their own nearby area. And you saw in the video, we have a combination of programs. There's federal programs to help local communities with fire fighting equipment. There's federal programs that provide grants to state and local communities that they can then work with their -- on a cost share basis with their private property owners to do these defensive thinning projects. And then we provide technical assistance through the forest service and the other land management agencies to provide landowners.
Q That's all stuff that already exists, right? That's not part of the Healthy Forest Initiative?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is all part of the Healthy Forest Initiative effort to accelerate and get more of this work done in more of the locations that need it.
Q Can I ask you a question about the rules you've implemented, versus the legislation? The rules no longer require environmental studies before logging for fire prevention, and does the legislation duplicate that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not true. There are three categories of -- actually two categories of rule-making activity we did. First of all, we studied thousands of thinning projects. And as a result of that environmental review of thousands of the smaller order thinning projects, we created a category of thinning actions. One is from mechanical treatment -- that's where you go in with machines and do thinning -- and the other is for prescribed fire. And we put very specific environmental conditions on those projects, which means that they're sort of a -- it's sort of a broad approval for that kind of work. So if your project meets the environmental criteria supported by the environmental review that did occur, you can move forward with that project without a lot of extra process.
Q Does the legislation duplicate that, or is that a separate --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Legislation doesn't address that one. The second thing we did is we have come up with a protocol for environmental assessments on larger projects that require site specific review of a higher order. And that protocol is designed to get the process more -- a more of a standardized process for doing the environmental review for the particular kind of project, and then also then streamlines the documentation so that they can move forward to decision on whether or not to proceed with the project in time for the project to have value.
So those are the two categories -- all of which encompass substantial environmental review, are predicated on peer reviewed scientific literature, and were done in a public notice and comment -- have been done, and will continue to be done in a public notice and comment process.
Q When is the Senate going to take it up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We hope right when I get back. They'll turn to it very rapidly.
Q What are the prospects?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The prospects are very strong. We were delighted with the vote in the House, which was -- let me make sure I've got the right number -- it was a 256 to 170 vote in the House, with 47 Democrats, which affect any piece of environment and natural resource legislation. That is a huge margin of bipartisan support.
Q I'm not clear, I'm sorry.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With that kind of support coming out of the House, that provides a lot of lift to what will happen in the Senate.
Q I'm not clear on what's in the legislation, besides the $20 million that's not already in the rules.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The legislation would allow for these, sort of, more common thinning projects, would allow for the -- in the environmental project design, allow a collaborative process to select the project alternative and then have that evaluated, rather than go through the more standard process that applies in other settings of a consideration of lots of different alternatives.
Q It's a project alternative?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What happens is, you know, you say, I'm going to do the project this way, and then you have to array four or five or six other ways of doing a project. This lets you get straight to the sort of more standard approach, and then allow you to take comment on that. So it just streamlines --
Q Streamlining -- would it be fair to say that the legislation streamlines the process to make --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's one piece of the legislation. The other piece of legislation is there's an appeals process that was put in place in 1993 for the Forest Service that has proven to be an obstacle to decision rather than facilitating decisions. And so what the legislation would do is it would substitute the current appeals process for an appeals process -- an appeals process that's more collaborative, that brings in citizens up front, and basically requires them to voice their objectives early on, rather than after the fact. And then what that will also do is if conflict remains, it will speed up the path to the federal court. And there will still be judicial review of all of these decisions.
Q Is there still a 90-day span from when it's proposed until after they can do it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That I don't know. I don't know the specific answer to that.
MS. BUCHAN: I think we're going to have to wrap it up. We're getting pretty close to the ground here.
Q One more thing. Earlier on you said that more trees per acre than is natural. What are you talking about? Nature put all these trees there, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What actually was happening is a century of well-intentioned but misguided fire fighting policy has resulted in unnatural densities. Instead of letting natural fires burn through and clear out the underbrush and the small trees, we've been putting out fires for a hundred years. And what happens then is all the small trees start growing up and you get much more densely packed forest, which is not natural. We're talking about forests that might be 30 to 40 acres -- 30 to 40 trees per acre naturally, now having stocks of 300 to 400 to 500 trees per acres.
Back when Lewis and Clark wandered through the Pacific Northwest, they were able to walk through these forests because they were big tall pines with open glades below. Now, you'd have to fight your way through these forests. And what happens when the trees are that densely packed, first of all, the trees don't grow as tall or as wide, so they don't get old growth characteristics; and, two, they're so closely packed that you get bonfire conditions that causes the fire to reach to the tops of the trees and kill everything.
Whereas, you'll see today, you'll see treated areas that survived the Aspen fire. And you'll see --
MS. BUCHAN: -- we really do need to sit down.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And then you'll see the untreated areas that -- you'll see it. It's a lot of dead stuff, it's going up, it's standing tall.
Q Was the big damage this year, right? Not last year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was a combination. Last year was the Bullock fire, and this year is the Aspen fire on the other side of the ridge, so you'll see both.
Q Last year was the bullet?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Bullock, B-u-l-l-o-c-k. That's on this side. And then the Aspen fire was on this side. And we're going to be along this ridge line.
MS. BUCHAN: Thank you, very much.
END 9:30 A.M. MDT