House GOP tries to slash forest environmental rules

Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.
Logging on the Frisco Peninsula, Sept. 2011. @bberwyn photo.

‘The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy’

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Anti-environmental Republicans in the House are once again trying to fast-track logging projects under the guise of forest health. They also want to discourage citizen involvement in forest management decisions and try and stop conservation groups from challenging illegal logging projects in court.

The House last week passed H.R. 2647, with the Orwellian name of “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015.”

Here’s a bill summary posted at govtrack.us:

“The Resilient Federal Forests Act would make a variety of changes to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service forest management standards such as requiring studies on plans in response to forest fires, insect and disease infestation, and catastrophic events. It would also make it more difficult to issue a lawsuit against the Forest Service by requiring plaintiffs who lose lawsuits to pay for the agency’s legal expenses, and in some cases by exempting the agency from paying the plaintiff’s legal expenses if the plaintiff wins.”

Govtrack gives the bill just a 15 percent chance of being signed into law, mainly because the extreme rightwingers in the House included language that won’t be acceptable to moderate Republicans in the Senate.

In effect, the House GOP quashed any real chance at passing any meaningful forest management reform because they insisted on pursuing an extreme, ideologically bill. That becomes apparent when you read the statement from Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee:

“The verdict is in. The draconian environmental policies and litigation assaults of the past thirty years have failed our forests. Horrific wildfires are running rampant in our National Forest System. H.R. 2647 gives the Forest Service the resources it needs to suppress these devastating wildfires and gives them the tools they need to prevent fires before they start. I am proud of Rep. Westerman and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their advancement of H.R. 2647, a bill which makes enormous progress toward restoring the health of our treasured national forests.”

Conservation groups are not thrilled about the bill. Defenders of Wildlife said the measure would “bulldoze bedrock environmental laws to pave the way for dramatic increases in logging in forests across America.”

This bill turns back the clock 50 years on forest management and puts our nation’s forests at risk by green-lighting reckless logging practices, damaging vital wildlife habitat, short-cutting critical environmental review, and limiting public involvement in forest management decisions.

“This is a sad testament to the fact that instead of leading the charge on conserving America’s valued forests, many in Congress seem bent on casting aside our nation’s foundational conservation laws,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, President and CEO, Defenders of Wildlife. “Dramatically increasing logging based upon little to no environmental analysis is like racing down the highway with your windshield painted black. You know that the outcome will not be good. The public will be looking at irreparable habitat damage, polluted watersheds and drinking water and a devastated outdoor economy.

“Rather than recklessly rolling back time-tested conservation laws, Congress should focus on the one and only legislative reform actually needed for our nation’s forests—properly funding the fire-fighting budget,” Rappaport Clark said.

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