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The Political Viability of NREPA The Last, Best Hope for the Northern Rockies

The Last, Best Hope for the Northern Rockies

by MICHAEL GARRITY

The U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on October 18, 2007 on the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) H.R. 1975, sponsored by Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) and 125 other Representatives. NREPA currently is the only wilderness bill that would affect Montana that has been introduced in Congress. NREPA will designate all of the inventoried roadless areas in the Northern Rockies as wilderness; protect some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically important lands while saving taxpayers money and creating jobs.

To preserve the biological integrity of the Northern Rockies ecosystem, NREPA will designate as wilderness nearly 7 million acres of wilderness in Montana, 9.5 million acres of wilderness in Idaho, 5 million acres of wilderness in Wyoming, 750,000 acres in eastern Oregon, and 500,000 acres in eastern Washington on federal public land. Included in this total is over 3 million acres in Yellowstone, Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.

The Northern Rockies is the only place in the lower 48 states where native species and wildlife are protected on lands that are virtually unchanged since Lewis and Clark saw them. This is public land belonging to all Americans.

Science tells us that wildlife populations cannot survive for long periods of time on isolated islands of habitat. Without plentiful habitat, populations eventually become genetically weaken and suffer from inbreeding effects. NREPA addresses this problem through its establishment of biological linkage corridors of habitat that connect the core wildlands of the region into one functioning ecological whole, preserving the genetic diversity needed for longevity. The lands and waters upon which 59 species of threatened and endangered species depend are within the area covered by NREPA.

At the Congressional hearing, University of Utah Museum of Natural History Research Curator William Newmark testified that we are in the midst of the world’s sixth major extinction event and the only place in the world we have a chance of stopping this extinction is in western North America and ecosystem protection bills like NREPA is the most effective way of reducing species loss.
Some people in the environmental community concede NREPA is a good bill but it is not politically viable. These claims are made even though NREPA is supported by the Speaker of the House as well as the Chairman of the Natural Resources committee, the committee where all wilderness bills must pass through and we could easily have a pro-wilderness President elected in November. Instead, critics propose that we turn more roadless areas over to loggers. For example, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge proposal would open up 200,000 acres of roadless land to be logged under the excuse that we have to make concessions to the timber industry. The problem is that not only are these roadless lands important for the long term survival of many species, but it would cost taxpayers millions.

The Forest Service’s budget shows that the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest loses over $1400 per acre when they log. To log 70,000 acres over the next ten years as the Beaverhead-Deerlodge proposal requires would cost taxpayers $98 million.

NREPA offers a better way to create jobs. It establishes a pilot wildland recovery system. Over 6,000 miles of damaging or unused roads will be restored to roadless conditions, providing employment for over 2,000 workers while saving tax-dollars from subsidized development.

NREPA produces more jobs because of the habitat restoration work associated with wildland recovery areas. The costs of this work will be approximately $130 million over ten years. This cost is $245 million less than the $375 million projected net loss for logging these areas.

Moreover, the number of timber jobs will continue to decline with technological advancement. Capital intensive technology is the main cause of the fall in timber related employment, not lack of trees. Employment in the wood products industry in Montana peaked in 1979 when 11,606 employees cut and milled 1 billion board feet of timber. In 1989, the timber industry harvested a record amount of timber, almost 1.3 billion board feet, but only 9,315 people were employed. In 2006, 926 million board feet was cut and milled by 3,524 people. In the last 27 years employment has decrease 70% while timber production has only decreased 7%.

The Forest Service, in a 2000 report titled Water and the Forest Service, found that water originating from lands that NREPA would protect has a value of at least $1 billion. It makes no economic sense to lose hundreds of millions of dollars on logging that harms the most valuable commodity our forests produce, water.
NREPA saves taxpayers millions of dollars, creates more jobs, provides maximum protection for endangered species habitat, and improves the economic viability of the northern Rockies.

More information about the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act can be found at http://www.wildrockies.org/nrepa/. The bill can be found by clicking here

MICHAEL GARRITY is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. He can be reached at: garritymichael@yahoo.com