The Wilderness Society today weighed in against a number of bills considered before a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. These bills passed up an opportunity to establish a productive dialogue on issues like community sustainability and fire management, and instead focused on proposals that threaten effective management and preservation of America’s public lands.
All of the bills today had been introduced in some form during the 112th Congress, which was the first Congress since 1966 to not designate any new wilderness. The 112th Congress was also the first Congress since World War II to not protect a single new acre of public land as a national monument, national park or wilderness area. Yet, the 112th Congress did introduce a wave of new legislation that attempted to systematically dismantle decades of laws that protect America’s wilderness and public lands.
“In the last Congress, dozens of citizen-driven conservation and wilderness bills stalled in the House Natural Committee, while corporate giveaways breezed through,” said Anne Merwin, director of wilderness policy at The Wilderness Society. “Thankfully, many conservation champions in Congress have reintroduced their wilderness bills this year. Yet, unlike the destructive measures that were considered today, these positive, citizen-driven proposals are not receiving the attention they deserve. We urge the Committee to focus on bills that would benefit all of the American people, not just special interests.”
Today, the re-introduced bills that The Wilderness Society opposes include:
H.R. ____: “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act”
This bill would establish “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the current Secure Rural Schools (SRS) county payments program, simultaneously creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablishing the discredited 25% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.
Public participation and Endangered Species Act protections would be severely limited. The bill creates huge loopholes in NEPA and such biased ESA requirements that in practice these laws would almost never meaningfully apply. For example, any project less than 10,000 acres would be categorically excluded from environmental analysis and public participation, and the Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.
H.R. 1294: “Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act of 2013”
This legislation would allow governors of any state with national forests to give away swaths of the forests to counties and local governments to meet local budget shortfalls. In the process, it will convert the management of our national forests from purposes that serve us all to purposes that serve only a few and are likely to include unsustainable levels of commercial logging.
Any national forest that has at least 200,000 acres can be turned over to a "Board of Trustees" made up of a local politicians and representatives from the logging, grazing, and recreation (such as off-road vehicle) industries. This board would be tasked with using the forest to generate revenue to be handed over to local counties; in other words, logging, mining, and otherwise exploiting the forest for short-term monetary gain. Air, water, wildlife, and any other federal protections would be limited. This would endanger over 150 million acres of national forests and directly impact the communities that rely on the clean drinking water, jobs and tourism that protected forests bring.
H.R. 818: “Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act”
This legislation would authorize road building on roadless areas by declaring that all National Forest System and BLM public lands are under “imminent threat,” thereby triggering an across-the-board application of a previously narrow exemption to the National, Idaho, and Colorado roadless rules. The Governor, without any input from the USFS or BLM, could designate “high-risk areas” based on current or future risk of fire, insects, drought, and undefined “deteriorating forest health conditions.”
Once designated, the Governor and Secretary may develop “fuels reduction projects” – which is defined to be virtually anything including clearcutting– across the designated area, including outside of the wildland-urban interface areas. The Secretary must implement these projects within 60 days from the date proposed by the Governor.
H.R. 1345: “Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013”
This legislation would require the Secretary to conduct “wildfire prevention projects” in designated “at-risk” forests and on threatened and endangered species habitat. All of these terms are so broadly defined that virtually any part of a forest could be designated and any type of project could be approved (including commercial logging in endangered species habitat, and grazing even though it encourages the spread of highly flammable cheatgrass). Any Forest Service and BLM land, including inventoried roadless areas and wilderness study areas, can be designated.
Follow @WildernessNow on Twitter for live tweets fact checking the hearing.