Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

How Congress is Undermining America’s Environmental Legacy


The U.S. Congress is whittling away America’s proud legacy of environmental protection. Legislation signed by President Obama, the 2014 Appropriations Act and the Farm Bill, marked an unsettling trend of weakening environmental protections and public oversight. Richard Nixon, an improbable conservation champion, signed these bedrock safeguards into law, but legislation continues to sneak its way through Congress seeking to undermine guarantees of government transparency and our right to a healthy environment.

The 2014 Appropriations Act, for example, constricts the right of citizens, the owners of our national public lands, to be notified of and to challenge the decisions of federal land management agencies. Specifically, Congress exempted projects approved through categorical exclusions from the normal public involvement process, leaving citizens to challenge these actions in federal court as the only option to stop harmful projects. By restricting our participation in Forest Service decisions, the National Environmental Policy Act is severely undermined.

The Farm Bill of 2014 created yet another exclusion from environmental analysis and public oversight; this time to log forests with insect and disease epidemics; up to 3,000 acres at a time! All forests have areas with natural insect pests and pathogens, but now logging them is exempt from environmental review and citizen objections. Citizens must, again, go immediately to federal court to challenge these actions. Another section of the Farm Bill provides $200 million dollars over the next 10 years to identify and log areas deemed in “declining health,” an absurdly broad term.

As bad as these new loopholes are, they come as no surprise. Phrases like “catastrophic wildfire” and “insect epidemics” have shaped forest policy for over a decade, creating a presumption that something must be done or we will lose our forests. This hyper-inflated rhetoric has found a home in Congress with the predictable result:  bills that purport to “restore” our public forests through logging mandates and suspension of our country’s principal environmental laws.

Examples of this disturbing trend are plentiful. Senator Barrasso’s (R-WY) Orwellian “National Forest Jobs and Management Act,” would mandate logging, curtail environmental analysis and side step the courts. Representative Daines’ (R-MT) “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would establish similar mandates with the added insult of removing safeguards provided by the Endangered Species Act. Senator Wyden’s (D-OR) “Oregon Eastside Forests Restoration, Old Growth Protection, and Jobs Act of 2013,” and Senator Tester’s “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act,” both include similar mandated logging provisions. It is the responsibility of the experts in the land management agencies to set management and restoration priorities based on science, not members of Congress.

In fact, “restoration” has often become a euphemism for logging, contrary to a growing body of science that undermines this rhetoric. After the sensationalized stories about last summer’s wildfire in Yosemite National Park, roughly 200 scientists signed a letter to Congress opposing a bill that would expedite post-fire logging in the national park and other burned areas. While the effects of logging on wildfire risk remain uncertain at best, we know the outcome of increased logging on forest resources: more loss of wildlife, damage to soils and pollution in our streams. Most recently a Montana University entomologist reviewed projects using logging as a tool to combat pine-beetles and found no evidence to support the practice.

Congress is disconnected from the science of forest management but is asserting itself from a place of political hyperbole. What we need now is less showboating from our elected officials, and more acknowledgements that wildfire, insects and disease are natural processes that have been undervalued for their ecological benefits. By circumventing environmental analysis and public oversight Congress ensures more lawsuits while eroding decades of ecological wisdom. It’s time that our elected officials let the appointed experts manage our forests and stop chipping away at America’s rich legacy of environmental protection.

Adam Rissien serves as the Northern Rockies Conservation Manager in Missoula, MT as part of WildEarth Guardians’ Wild Places Program. 

Bryan Bird is the Wild Places Director based out of the WildEarth Guardians home office in Santa Fe, NM.

This essay originally appeared in the Missoulian.


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 25, 2016
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation wasted $32.2 million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians