New Bill Puts Industry in Charge of Federal Lands

Clearwater National Forest in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho.


John McCarthy

Just when you think the U.S. House of Representatives has run out of bad ideas to pass along to the Senate, here comes another reckless bill. H.R. 6009 would waive key environmental laws so our national forests could be more easily stripped of timber.

Euphemistically called the “Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act of 2012,” H.R. 6009 was introduced on June 21, 2012 by Representative Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee. 

This act would carve out at least 200,000 acres of National Forest land in each western state to create “community forest demonstration areas,” in order to become sources of state revenue. This land would be selected and administered by a governor-appointed board of trustees that includes no environmental or federal representation but ensures that extractive industries, especially logging, livestock grazing, and mining, all have a seat at the table. Once appointed, this industry-dominated board will be given sole management authority over these federal parcels.

Just to make sure the general public has no say in how these lands are administered, the act waives federal environmental regulations, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and NEPA, except where required by state law. The board of trustees may elect to conduct unsustainable timber harvests (i.e. clear-cutting), unsafe and dirty mining activities, or excessive livestock grazing.

This bill is intended to provide an alternative to funding for communities that have been receiving federal payments through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, which is set to expire this year. Proponents of H.R. 6009 claim it will save the federal government money by exempting community forest demonstration areas from parcels requiring federal payments under 16 U.S.C. 500. However, the consequences of these reckless actions may end up costing more in terms of contaminated water supplies, unhealthy air, and erosion. Management of these federal public lands would be devoted to the sole purpose of generating money for the county.   For the average citizen, this means less clean water, less wildlife habitat, and less recreation opportunities on the selected parcels – all things that we value and expect from public lands.

In addition to this ecological toll, the recent decline in home construction has reduced demand for timber, and their sales will not likely generate sufficient or sustainable revenue as trees are increasingly harvested. Additionally, the costs of fire suppression would still be covered by federal taxpayers.

H.R. 6009 now takes its place next to the pantheon of anti-environmental pot-shots aimed at our public lands by the U.S House of Representatives, as summarized in a report by The Wilderness Society “Wilderness Under Siege.”

This piece was co-authored by Jacquelyn Kirkland