The House of Representatives passed legislation today that will suspend environmental laws to open up previously protected old-growth and recreation areas to clearcut logging. The Orwellian-named “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (HR 2936) is an overwhelming assault on the nation’s public lands, waters, species and environmental laws.
“This is a profit-driven, timber industry initiative thinly disguised as restoration,” says Samantha Krop, Grassroots Organizer with Eugene-based Casadia Wildlands. “It guts our bedrock laws in order to clearcut public forests in a magnitude we have never seen before.”
While the bill is framed as a way to address forest fires, it does little to create more fire-resilient forests. Instead, it is designed to boost logging levels on our National Forests and Bureau of Land Management lands while sacrificing myriad bedrock environmental laws.
“This bill is a fraud, and it is completely opposite to our hard-earned knowledge about fires on our forests,” says Gabriel Scott, In-House Counsel with Cascadia Wildlands. “This cynical betrayal of the public confirms our worst fears about national forest policy in this Congress under this Administration.”
Introduced by Representative Bruce Westerman (R-AR), the bill is a gift to the timber industry. In only his second term in Congress, Westerman has received more campaign contributions from Big Timber than any other industry.
Specifically, the bill would:
• Make millions of acres of currently protected areas — including endangered species habitat and other critically sensitive areas tied to these lands—vulnerable to harmful road building and logging. These targeted areas are some of the most popular outdoor recreation areas throughout the West.
• Exempt commercial logging from requirements under the Endangered Species Act, in essence issuing a blank check for projects that would jeopardize imperiled species and their critical habitats.
• Skirt public participation and review of logging projects that will affect communities in the Pacific Northwest. H.R. 2936 cuts out meaningful public involvement and enables significant destruction of public lands and waters by waiving substantive environmental review for a broad range of harmful activities. To put the sheer magnitude of these legal changes in perspective, currently only smaller logging projects are exempt from substantive environmental review under federal law. H.R. 2936 increases the size of exempt projects to 30,000 acres.
Despite the bill’s proponents’ attempt to use this year’s fire season as an excuse for dramatically increased logging, leading scientists state that post-fire logging generally only further harms the ecosystem, undermines recovery, and increases fire risk. Through their slow decay, standing dead trees that remain after a fire provide the very nutrients needed to recover the landscape over the long haul. Post-fire logging involves cutting the large trees and leaves behind smaller trees and branches, and often involves planting dense rows of resinous saplings that can further increase fire risk.
Moreover, the bill diverts Secure Rural Schools Act funding from restoration activities to timber projects, and creates a state-based timber production program to facilitate logging. In essence, the bill takes money that would fund education in western states and funnels it to the timber industry.
If enacted into law, the bill will set a dangerous precedent to erode cornerstone laws that protect the environment further jeopardizing clean water, imperiled species and climate security.
— Cascadia Wildlands