An area burned during the July Mountain Fire.   File Photo
An area burned during the July Mountain Fire. File Photo

As part of its efforts to ensure counties with a large portion of public lands receive payments equivalent to the loss of property taxes, the House of Representatives has passed a bill that would increase timber logging efforts on many national forests.
While logging is in a long-term decline in America, the causes are varied. Certainly heightened environmental sensitivity, as well as specific laws such as the National Environmental Protection, Endangered Species and Wilderness acts, have reduced some logging. (All were originally enacted in the 10 years between 1964 and 1973.) But economic issues are generally even more powerful.
Last month, the House passed H.R. 1526, which not only requires the Secretary of Agriculture to designate lands within every national forest as eligible for timber harvest but also mitigates environmental protections such as applying NEPA.
Although the Obama Administration opposed the bill, during the House Natural Resources Committee hearings, little formal opposition formed. But since its September passage, more and more scientists and organizations are speaking out against several of these sections.
On Oct. 30, 250 scientists (including Dr. Jennifer Gee, director of the University of California’s James Reserve, north of Pine Cove) signed a letter to the Senate objecting to the section enabling easier logging on areas burned by wildfires.
The letter encouraged recognizing the importance of the burned areas to the natural rejuvenation of the forest and its wildlife habitants.
“Though it may seem at first glance that a post-fire landscape is a catastrophe ecologically, numerous scientific studies tell us that even in patches where forest fires burned most intensely, the resulting post-fire community is one of the most ecologically important and biodiverse habitat types in western conifer forests,” the letter reads. “Post-fire conditions serve as a refuge for rare and imperiled wildlife that depend upon the unique habitat features created by intense fire. … This post-fire habitat, known as ‘complex early seral forest,’ is quite simply some of the best wildlife habitat in forests and is an essential stage of natural forest processes. Moreover, it is the least protected of all forest habitat types and is often as rare, or rarer, than old-growth forest, due to damaging forest practices encouraged by post-fire logging policies.”
Complex early seral forests “occur when most of the live trees in a stand are killed, leaving behind an area of dead trees (called snags) and a carpet of downed logs, flowers, shrubs, and small sapling,” according to the Wild Nature Institute.
Trying to revive a diminishing industry, House Natural Resource Chair Doc Hastings (R-WA) argued, “Last year, 9.3 million acres of national forests burned in wildfires. As comparison, only 200,000 acres were harvested by the U.S. Forest Service. This means that 44 times more acres burned compared to those acres that were responsibly harvested.
“The bill requires responsible timber production on at least half of the Forest Service’s commercial timber lands — areas that were specifically identified by the Forest Service for timber harvest,” he said.
The administration has already indicated that President Barack Obama’s senior advisors would recommend he veto the bill. Among the reasons, are “Title I would negatively impact forest resources and the Department of Agriculture’s current statutory obligations to manage forest lands by requiring [the department] to sell no less than 50 percent of the sustained yield from the bill’s newly created Forest Reserve Revenue Areas.”
Another reason is the bill “would also accelerate commercial grazing and timber harvests without appropriate environmental review and public involvement, and would impede compliance with NEPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements.”
Both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times editorial boards have recently spoken against these provisions.