The U.S. Congress is readying to pass its catch-all domestic spending bill this week — and with it, a provision that would give the timber industry responsibility for managing millions of acres of national forests throughout the West. Under the provision, which was added at the last minute by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management would be allowed to award an unlimited quantity of “stewardship contracts” to logging companies. Translation: Timber companies would be paid taxpayer dollars and earn the right to cut down larger, marketable trees in exchange for maintaining trails and thinning forests to minimize fire danger. The timber industry said Stevens’ provision would benefit forests by enlisting the help of the private sector, but environmentalists said the move would be tantamount to letting the fox guard the henhouse.

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