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Critics Question Need To Rewrite Federal Forest Act Craig Hearing Focuses On Limiting Timber Appeals

Conservationists, the timber industry and cattlemen agree there are flaws in proposed changes in the rights of citizens to appeal federal land-use decisions.

Some want tougher changes, some want none.

And on Wednesday, for the second day in a row, other experts raised questions about the need for a major rewrite of the National Forest Management Act.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was hosting the second of five workshops on his sweeping proposal to change federal land management.

Despite criticism of his bill, he made clear when he opened the hearings Tuesday that he is determined to stick with the fight.

Long an advocate for the timber industry, Craig is one of the top recipients nationally of timber and mining PAC dollars.

On Wednesday, former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey, now top aide to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, again joined Craig in questioning panelists.

The most common ground Wednesday seemed to be language in the proposed bill that says an appeal is automatically denied if the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management doesn’t rule on it within a certain deadline.

Citizens then could sue but “it’s more of a burden on citizens if they have to go to court,” pointed out Pamela Baldwin of the Congressional Research Service.

It also gives “the agency license to do nothing,” said Larry Hill, a former Forest Service employee who now works for the Society of American Foresters.

Bill Meyers, of the National Cattleman’s Association, said his organization, while wanting Congress to make it tougher to file appeals, agrees “with concerns it might give agencies an easy out.”

More volatile, however, is Craig’s plan to give the Forest Service and the BLM the right to levy a $10,000 fine against people who file frivolous appeals.

The Forest Service and BLM already can dismiss frivolous appeals, noted Baldwin, the Congressional Research Service attorney.

The mere concept of a $10,000 fine would intimidate people already intimidated by taking on a government bureaucracy, environmentalists said.

Many also questioned how “frivolous” would be defined.

“Eliminating frivolous or harassment-type appeals is a laudable goal, but one individual’s frivolity is someone else’s attempt to change a decision,” said Hill of the Society of American Foresters.

The issue of frivolous appeals brought stories of the “29-cent appeals,” a term coined when the price of mailing a first-class letter was 29 cents. The usual favorite - the story of an Eastern college student appealing Western timber sales - quickly surfaced.

But Kevin Kirschner, an attorney with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, claimed he finally researched that story and discovered the Eastern college student had grown up in Oregon and worked summers on BLM lands. That student, he noted, filed an appeal because he was concerned about clearcuts in his home state.

Appeals also “provide a check that allows the Forest Service to take a second look at a decision that is irreversible,” said Wade Schaefer of the Sierra Club in North Dakota.

Off-road vehicle enthusiasts and timber industry representatives had a different view.

Without changes that make appeals tougher, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will continue to spend inordinate amounts of time in the office dealing with environmental studies and appeals instead of being out on the ground managing the land, said Mark Rentz of the California Forestry Association.

A Pocatello, Idaho, man representing dirt bikers and snowmobilers praised Craig’s effort. Clark Collins, of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, also encouraged Craig to make citizen appeals tougher.

Having the right to appeal or sue, commonly called standing, “should include personal involvement in our area,” Collins said. Collins did point out that recreation-related appeals are a significant part of the total filed - nearly 700 in 1994 alone.

Other industry representatives echoed the call for tougher rules, urging that Congress make it much more difficult to achieve the right to appeal or sue so the $4 million to $8 million a year now spent resolving appeals can be used elsewhere.

But Tim Coleman, a Ferry County, Wash., resident who runs the Kettle Range Conservation Group, said the Forest Service has created many of its own problems by ignoring the public’s concerns.

Appeals are not the solution to land management problems, he said, because the government and the timber industry always have deeper pockets to fight them.

Still, appeals are a vital means of allowing democratic participation, he said. And his group has managed to arrive at a satisfactory negotiated settlement in 37 of the 40 appeals it has filed over the past five years.

Craig said he doesn’t “want to prohibit people from engaging, I want them to engage early.”

A similar but less comprehensive forest management law rewrite he introduced last year failed.

, DataTimes MEMO: What’s next? Hearings continue next Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C., The final hearing will be in Coeur d’Alene on March 25.

What’s next? Hearings continue next Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington, D.C., The final hearing will be in Coeur d’Alene on March 25.