“Fire protection” shouldn’t torch environmental safeguards

Some members of the House Natural Resources Committee are using a raft of new bills to degrade environmental safety guidelines and mandate clear-cutting vast swaths of American forests.

New bills from Reps. Labrador (ID), Tipton (CO), Gosar (Ariz.), and the Chairman of the committee, Rep. Doc Hastings (Wash.) would force thousands, if not millions, of acres of forest to be all but handed over to timber companies, at the expense of the taxpayer. 

In addition to make clear-cutting in some of our precious national forests, many of these bills would also gut the landmark environmental law that mandates review of environmental consequences, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). By allowing unchecked logging operations to be exempt from NEPA, these bills would undo more than 40 years of progress in restoring America’s forests and protecting old growth trees.

These bills claim to be good for the communities near forests, but the reality is that they actually benefit timber companies. Here are the details of these bills:

  • Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (Rep. Hastings):

    Details: Under legislation similar to last year, Hastings proposed to replace the successful but expired “Secure Rural Schools” program that supports education in rural areas and replace it with “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” that would require logging of no less than HALF of natural forest growth, every year. Every single acre of National Forest that isn’t a designated Wilderness area could become a “Forest Reserve Revenue Area”. Many local recreation spots, for hiking or camping, would instead become areas for logging. This bill would also gut NEPA, creating new exemption for logging projects that would functionally eliminate public review and informed decisionmsking for nearly all logging projects. The bill would also mandate the Secretary of Agriculture to say that these logging projects would not harm endangered species. Other agencies, like the Fish and Wildlife Service, would have limited time to object to this mandatory and arbitrary finding and our most endangered animals would be in trouble.
     

  • Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (Rep. Tipton):

    Details: Under this bill, clear-cutting swaths of forest deemed “high-risk” for fire would happen. The problem is that “high-risk” is undefined and left up to the Governor’s discretion, meaning any part of the forest that could potentially be flammable would fit under the definition. Also, the bill would force logging projects to be approved by the Secretary of Interior within 60 days, with little to no public input, or even notice. A forest could declared “high-risk” for almost any reason, and could go from healthy forest to clear-cut in as little as 2 months, even without any environmental review or local comments
     

  • Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (Rep. Gosar):

    Details: This is another bill that identifies “high-risk” forests and forces logging.  It also takes 25 percent of revenue from sales of the timber from the Forest Service and gives it to local counties. Any endangered species in a “high-risk” forest would be in trouble too, since the bill does not require formal Endangered Species Act consultations. 

 

All in all, these bills – and several more on the docket – are an all-out assault on America’s forests. They would force logging in otherwise healthy forests, under the guise of safety, and to the benefit of the timber industry. Just as galling is the fact that most of these bills are reruns of bills introduced in the last Congress, and were deemed too extreme, even for the most anti-wilderness Congress in history. If they were too extreme for 2012, they are certainly too extreme for 2013.

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