Timber Industry Welcomes Forest Bill But Environmental Group Calls Oregon Lawmaker’s Legislation A Cover For Salvage Logging
Another piece of forest health legislation surfaced in Congress Friday to the joy of the timber industry and the horror of environmentalists.
Rep. Bob Smith, R-Ore., introduced a bill that would shift $50 million from Forest Service firefighting funds to pay for salvage logging in what he characterized as fire-prone national forests.
Smith’s bill designates forest health recovery areas, and gives the secretary of agriculture the power to decide which national forests need the attention. A scientific panel would advise the secretary on the issue.
The American Forest & Paper Association calls the bill a balanced, bipartisan, science-driven approach to national forest health. The measure also is environmentally sensitive and will reduce the danger of wildfires in the West and help with gypsy moth problems in the East, the association said.
The more environmentally inclined ForestWater Alliance says Smith’s bill is a slick cover for reintroducing salvage logging. Among the problems the group cites is that the measure allows the Forest Service broad discretion to declare any sale a salvage sale, which led to the harvest of many green trees under temporary salvage logging legislation that was in effect from mid-1995 through 1996.
Unlike the controversial salvage logging program, any timber harvesting would have to comply with environmental laws, said Smith, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
He said his bill is an attempt to force the Clinton administration to address U.S. forest resources that are “extremely sick and extremely neglected.”
Forest Service officials had not seen Smith’s bill and had no immediate response, an agency spokesman said.
Backers of the measure say a century of fire suppression combined with decades of excessive logging of native tree species have disrupted natural forest life cycles, leaving many national forests susceptible to insects, disease and unusually intense fires.
Under Smith’s proposal, the Forest Service would be required, every five years, to rank national forests facing the highest fire risks.
Citizens would have new avenues to petition the federal government for designation of special treatment areas larger than 1,000 acres. If denied, the agriculture secretary would be required to explain why the designation should not occur.
Within six months, the agriculture secretary would identify pilot projects for areas that “pose a significant risk of loss to human life and property or serious resource degradation or destruction due to wildfire, disease epidemic, or severe insect infestation.”
The pilot projects could begin as early as next summer in parts of the Pacific Northwest such as the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington, Sierra Nevada mountains, Southern Appalachian mountains and northern forests of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and New York.
A new Recovery and Protection Fund, administered by the Forest Service chief, would receive a onetime transfer of $50 million from the agency’s Wildland Fire Management account even though the Forest Service routinely has trouble covering its firefighting costs.
Money usually spent on roads and trails would help keep the fund afloat in future years, until forest recovery projects generated additional revenue. But environmentalists also decry that, noting it may mean another problematic off-budget Forest Service slush fund.
Meanwhile, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said he would introduce companion legislation in the Senate.
Texas Rep. Charlie Stenholm, senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, chairman of its subcommittee on forestry, endorsed the effort.
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