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Lawless Logging

Our public heritage is at risk from a lawless logging bill that effectively eliminates all reasonable checks on the timber industry. The threat comes from House Natural Resources Committee passed out of committee H.R. 2936 known euphemistically as the “Resilient Federal Forest Act” or as the Westerman bill for short after its chief sponsor.

The Westerman bill is a Trojan Horse with a nice sounding name, that is nothing more than a timber industry dream list of provisions designed to make it easier for timber corporations to raid our natural patrimony to boost their corporate profits.

The legislation if enacted would essentially eliminate any pretense of using science in forest management and basically open our national forests to massive logging operations with limited public oversight. It is the ultimate manifestation of the Industrial Forestry paradigm advocated by the timber industry.

Among the dangerous provisions in the bill is the expansion of “Categorical Exclusion” or CE. Under the bill’s terms, the Forest Service and/or the BLM could dispense with the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA which requires the government to articulate the full consequences of its proposals.

Things like whether elk hiding cover is compromised, or whether roads may create excessive sedimentation into trout streams or if weeds may be spread by logging equipment and how the agency plans to minimize or reduce those impacts. Under the legislation, the FS and BLM would not have to consider any of these impacts to our public heritage.

The Westerman legislation allows the FS or BLM to use the Categorical Exclusion clause on projects that affect as much as 10,000 acres and up to 30,000 acres if the proposal is advanced by a “collaborative”. To put that in perspective, one acre is about 75% the size of a football field. So, imagine up to 22,500 football fields being logged without any significant review.

Worse, the CE can be used over and over. So, one 10,000-acre area could be clear-cut under the CE and then the immediately adjacent area could also be cut under a CE and so on.

According to Westermann’s bill a CE can be used if logging may prevent insect and disease, prevent wildfire, increase water and even just for commercial timber sales.

Of course, insects, disease, and wildfire are all critical elements in healthy forests and are exactly the natural factors that create “resilience” in forests. But the Industrial Forestry paradigm sees anything that kills trees other than chainsaws as “unnatural” and harmful.

The bill would also allow the use of herbicides for up to 10,000 acres at a shot and would allow logging in potential wilderness areas without considering the impacts of logging on its wildlands qualities.

To add insult to injury, the legislation would also speed up the pejoratively named “salvage logging” giving the FS only two months to prepare any environmental assessment. Most ecologists believe logging dead trees is the ecological equivalence of ripping bandages off a burn victim. Dead trees are ecologically necessary for healthy forest ecosystems and for restoring resilience. But the Westerman bill allows the agencies to ignore science in its reviews.

As a further way to insulate the timber industry and federal agencies from public oversight, the bill eliminates judicial review and eliminates any opportunity for recovering legal fees by plaintiffs, even if the agency is held in violation of federal laws. This is obviously a provision designed to make it more difficult for environmental organizations to file law suits that hold the federal government accountable to the law.

There is more in this bill that is a threat to our legal system, our public review process, and our natural heritage. I urge citizens to contact their representatives and ask them to oppose this legislation.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

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