Federal legislation could clearcut forest protections
Over the past 40 years, the network of federal laws and regulations have ensured that public lands, resources and wildlife have been managed to balance multiple values and uses.
A new bill in the U.S. House of Representatives would unravel the delicate balance struck by these laws and would increase commercial timber extraction on National Forests at the expense of all other public values.
The "Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017" (H.R. 2936) is an extremist bill that would make significant changes in how the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act are applied to forest management and would severely limit judicial review of timber sales.
For example, currently the U.S. Forest Service analyzes the environmental impacts of every major project that could have a significant impact on the environment and make their analysis available to the public for review and comment.
Certain projects that have a small impact on the environment are "categorically excluded" from analysis — things like creating trails, maintaining utility lines, logging fewer than 70 acres of live trees or 250 acres of dead trees.
The proposed bill would massively increase the size of timber sales excluded from environmental analysis to 10,000 acres for some kinds of projects and up to 30,000 acres for others.
To put this into context, currently the largest timber sale, by far, on Mt. Hood National Forest is 13,000 acres.
The proposed bill would undercut the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by removing the requirement that the Forest Service consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on projects that may adversely affect an endangered species.
The bill replaces this with "self-consultation," meaning the Forest Service would no longer be accountable to the agencies that enforce the ESA, which could increase the rate of decline of the northern spotted owl and other sensitive species.
H.R. 2936 would also severely limit the public's ability to have their day in court over management decisions on public lands. It would prevent courts from enforcing certain laws, restrict the ability of the court to halt a project during a legal challenge, and prevent public interest attorneys from recovering fees from the government if they successfully challenge the legality of a timber sale in court.
National Forests provide invaluable drinking water to millions, are the backbone of America's thriving outdoor recreation economy, and provide key habitat for threatened and endangered species.
This bill removes important laws solely to benefit the timber industry, thus setting a dangerous precedent that could lead to confusion, disruption and confrontation.
This would take funding, focus and energy away from the very real restoration needs of our National Forests.
As someone who joined the forest protection movement after the Salvage Rider of 1995, I remember what happened when Congress took away the ability to enforce environmental laws.
Old trees were on the chopping block and the only way to stop them was to climb up into the canopy and to organize on the ground. As exciting as those days were, I'd rather be working to create an awesome new Forest Plan for Mt. Hood National Forest than block roads and feller bunchers with my body.
Brenna Bell is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) coordinator and staff attorney for Bark, a local nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform Mt. Hood National Forest into a place where natural processes prevail, where wildlife thrives and where local communities have a social, cultural and economic investment in its restoration and preservation.