White House threatens veto on Hastings/Daines mandated logging bill

Outside of Montana the entire forest/wilderness protection community has rallied together to oppose a mandated logging bill for America’s national forests sponsored by Rep Doc Hastings (R-WA), Rep Steve Daines (R-MT) and 21 other GOP House members.

The so-called “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” (H.R. 1526), which reads more like a timber industry/Sage Brush Rebellion wish list than anything else, is scheduled to be voted on by the US House sometime this week. (See Andy Stahl’s previous post for some vote-count predictions, as well as more information).

Of course, here in Montana it’s crystal clear that the Rep Daines/Hastings mandated logging bill is taken directly out of Senator Tester’s own mandated logging playbook.

Yesterday, the White House released a Statement of Administration Policy, which strongly opposed the bill and promised a veto:

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1526, which includes numerous harmful provisions that impair Federal management of federally-owned lands and undermine many important existing public land and environmental laws, rules, and processes. The bill would significantly harm sound long-term management of these Federal lands for continued productivity and economic benefit as well as for the long-term health of the wildlife and ecological values sustained by these holdings. H.R. 1526, which includes unreasonable restrictions on certain Federal agency actions, would negatively impact the effective U.S. stewardship of Federal lands and natural resources, undertaken on behalf of all Americans. The bill also would create conflicts with existing statutory requirements that could generate substantial and complex litigation.” (See below for entire Statement)

I should mention that the White House’s Statement of Administration Policy on the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” (H.R. 1526) has also been making the rounds via email among the Forest Service’s top communication’s strategists.

To date, there has been not one word from Senator Tester  (D-MT) or Senator Baucus (D-MT) about the Rep Daines/Hastings mandated logging bill. Perhaps that’s because Sen Tester and Sen Baucus are the only Democratic senators in America supporting their own national forest mandated logging bill, the “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.”

To date, none of the Tester mandated logging bill collaborators at the Montana Wilderness Association, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation or Montana Trout Unlimited have uttered one peep of resistance, protest or concern about the Rep Daines/Rep Hastings mandated logging bill, which the White House says would “undermine many important existing public land and environmental laws, rules, and processes.”

Instead these collaborators continue to court Rep Daines with expensive advertising and letters to the editor pressuring Daines to support Tester’s version of a mandated National Forest logging bill.

Yep, things are that whacky here in Montana.

———————

EXECUTIVE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT
OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20503

September 18, 2013

STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 1526 – Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act
(Rep. Hastings, R-WA, and 22 cosponsors)

While supportive of working with States and communities to restore National Forests and rangeland, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1526, which includes numerous harmful provisions that impair Federal management of federally-owned lands and undermine many important existing public land and environmental laws, rules, and processes. The bill would significantly harm sound long-term management of these Federal lands for continued productivity and economic benefit as well as for the long-term health of the wildlife and ecological values sustained by these holdings. H.R. 1526, which includes unreasonable restrictions on certain Federal agency actions, would negatively impact the effective U.S. stewardship of Federal lands and natural resources, undertaken on behalf of all Americans. The bill also would create conflicts with existing statutory requirements that could generate substantial and complex litigation. A number of the Administration’s concerns with H.R. 1526 are outlined below.

Title I would negatively impact forest resources and the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) current statutory obligations to manage forest lands by requiring USDA to sell no less than 50 percent of the sustained yield from the bill’s newly created Forest Reserve Revenue Areas (FRRA). The Administration does not support specifying timber harvest levels in statute, which does not take into account public input, environmental analyses, multiple use management or ecosystem changes. The bill would create a fiduciary responsibility to beneficiary counties to manage FRRAs to satisfy the annual volume requirement, which may create significant financial liability for the United States. It would also impede National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance for projects within FRRA, which undermines the reasoned consideration of the environmental effects of Federal agency actions. The bill also would establish significant barriers to the courts by imposing a requirement that plaintiffs post a bond for the Federal government’s costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees.

Title II would give States the ability to determine management on Federal lands, including prioritized management treatments for hazardous fuel reductions and forest health projects without consultation with Federal land agencies, public involvement, or consideration of sound science and management options. The title would also accelerate commercial grazing and timber harvests without appropriate environmental review and public involvement, and would impede compliance with NEPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements. The Administration supports early public participation in Federal land management. The bill would mandate processes that shortchange collaboration and would lead to more conflict and delay. Further, this title’s mandated use of limited budgetary resources would likely reduce funding for other critical projects.

Title III would transfer from Federal agencies to a State-appointed Trust, the rights and responsibilities to manage most lands covered by the Oregon and California Railroad and Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands Act (O&C) lands, and attempts to create exemptions from NEPA, ESA and other land management statutes. This would undermine appropriate management and stewardship of these lands, which belong to all Americans, would compromises habitat for threatened and endangered species, and would create legal uncertainty over management of these lands as well as increase litigation risk. Further, Title III also contains seriously objectionable limitations on the President’s existing authority under the Antiquities Act to designate new National Monuments in this region.

Title IV would remove authority from the Secretary of Agriculture for management of National Forest lands designated as Community Forest Demonstration Areas, while requiring the Secretary to be responsible for a number of management actions including fire presuppression, suppression, and rehabilitation. This title’s proposed management strategies would create a patchwork of management schemes and difficulties for the agency to meet other statutory and regulatory requirements. Federal environmental laws should apply on Federal lands; however, Title IV creates exceptions to, and potentially exemptions from the normal application of these laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and the ESA.

If H.R. 1526 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

——————-

Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate HR 1526 “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act”

http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/hr1526.pdf

 

 

23 Comments

  1. Larry, I’m pretty sure that since the Chief of the Forest Service serves at the pleasure of the President that the Administration’s Statement of Policy covers the Chief’s position. It’s sort of hard to believe that the Administration would issue a Statement of Policy without consulting with the Chief of Forest Service, right?

  2. @Matthew Koehler
    It’s hard to believe that the Democrat’s leadership would even understand the issues facing our forests. They are more like Soviet “apparatchiks”, rather than scientific leadership. I’d rather hear his words, instead. Yes, the Forest Service DOES release their own opinions on Congressional bills, too. Again, while I like some of the ideas of the bill, it is too political for my non-partisan values.

  3. With the hope of clarifying some of the comments above: 1) The Administration and its relevant “senior advisors” fully endorse the not-so-new NFMA planning rule; 2) The Forest Service, including the Chief, do not take positions independent of the Administration on proposed legislation; and, 3) The Administration consults with the Forest Service before taking positions on FS-related legislation.

  4. @andystahl
    Still, I think it would be important to hear the Chief’s own words, instead. I say that because some groups dislike both Vilsack and Tidwell, despite their supposed subservience to Democratic politics. I would very much like to see us go back to a Chief who stays in office, despite a change in Administration. Politics, from both sides, shouldn’t have a place in how OUR National Forests are managed.

  5. @larryharrellfotoware
    Larry: You may have hit the nail on the head. The very first politically appointed Forest Service Chief was Jack Ward Thomas, in 1993. Before then it was all career professionals. Look at the USFS record of lawsuits, wildfires, Ranger District closures, employment strategies, harvest levels, income distribution, etc., etc. from WW II to the present, and then compare any or all of those items before 1993 (1945-1992) with everything since then. Botkin or Pielke (I forget which) makes the point that science has been politicized by scientists, not politicians — and I think politicized science is at the root of much of our current chaos and failure — and it appears the problem became greatly exacerbated when it reached the top. It is no coincidence, in my perspective, that Thomas is a scientist and not a forester and that the problems facing us today became much worse following his appointment.

  6. @bobzybach
    I dunno, Bob, the scientist correlation doesn’t seem all that great:
    Jack Ward Thomas: trained as scientist? not really (Ph.D. natural resources planning)
    Mike Dombeck: yes, trained as scientist (Ph.D. fisheries biology)
    Dale Bosworth: non-scientist career forester
    Gail Kimbell: non-scientist career forester
    Tom Tidwell: non-scientist career forester

  7. @Guy Knudsen
    Guy: All I’m saying is that Jack Ward Thomas was the first politically appointed Chief of the Forest Service and that he was a scientist, whatever his academic background may have been. And he had his spotted owl agenda when he was appointed. Don’t know much about who followed him, just the preventable wildfire damages and related economic distress.

  8. @bobzybach
    Bob- I think it’s more complicated than that.. you might want to read JWT’s Journal http://www.amazon.com/Jack-Ward-Thomas-Journals-Service/dp/0295983981. Administrations pick Chiefs they like, and are mean to ones they don’t like whom they inherit from other Administrations. Sometimes they pick them, and are later mean to them when they aren’t as pliable as they would like…or sometimes when they are? Can’t really figure them out. Maybe running USDA just makes you cranky.

    Anyway, here’s my view.. People Elected President Clinton. However it worked, through the White House and politicals in the Dept., they picked JWT. They get to do that, the same way that people in Oregon get to elect their representatives. These are all legitimate things that happen in our government system. Even if we disagree with what they do from time to time.

    JWT is a wildlife biologist, and having sat in many Chief and Staff meetings where he weighed in on RPA topics, I have a great deal of respect for him. I would be more afraid of someone outside the natural resource professions being Chief; but that’s up to elected officials.

    You might remember this talk posted here also- .http://forestpolicypub.com/2012/11/26/the-future-of-the-national-forests-who-will-answer-an-uncertain-trumpet-by-jack-ward-thomas/

    Here is a quote that seems relevant to the current discussion:

    Courts ruled that the FS’s applications of “professional judgment” fell short of the required “hard look” in evaluating proposed management actions. As a result, NF administrators (and legal counselors) became increasingly risk averse and, too often, produced evermore voluminous assessments in an effort to demonstrate compliance with laws and regulations. Evidently, it was assumed that costs of court ordered “do overs” exceeded costs of “overkill” in the form of excessive documentation. For the most part, the strategy largely failed. Losers included citizens who felt inundated, confused, and turned-off by increasingly voluminous and “technically dense” documents. Costs in time and money increased. Post-mortem examination showed that such “over kill” was an ineffective defensive mechanism.

    and

    “Fierce in battle, many of the eco-warriors have been unable to come to grips with the consequences of victory and are now reduced to wandering about the old battlefields ‘bayoneting the wounded.’ Their counterparts from the resource extraction community, likewise, cannot come to terms with defeat and hold ‘ghost dances’ to bring back the good old days when they were the undisputed Kings of the West.”

    Most hard core “environmentalists” demonstrated little concern with the social/economic consequences of their victories. Some, figuratively, continued to wander the old battlefields “bayoneting the wounded” via challenges to even minor forest management activities. Victories have consequences. To the victors belong the spoils – and some responsibility to ameliorate consequences of their victories – “you break it – you own it” (Thomas 2001a and 2001b). There was applicable wisdom in President Lincoln’s admonition to General Grant near the end of the Civil War – “Let ‘em up easy.”

    It seems to me that it’s all political – and politicians who defer to “science” when they don’t want to be held responsible for policy choices, and scientists who love the power and glory of telling people what to do are equally part of the problem.

    However, I don’t think that JWT was responsible for any of the stuff, in fact if you read what he wrote about DOJ you’ll see that he was frustrated by some of the things people are still frustrated about. http://forestpolicypub.com/2011/01/17/jack-ward-thomas-on-the-role-of-doj-and-settlements/

    Here’s a quote:

    One of the most stunning facts that I have learned over the past year is that, in its ability to independently determine whether or not to proceed with any legal activity, the Department of Justice wields the greatest capacity to set policy of any agency of the government. I naively assumed that the chief of the Forest Service made the decision as to whether to pursue a court action. Not even the undersecretary or the secretary makes those decisions. Such can merely request and suggest. The Department of Justice decides- the agency can proprose and the Department of Justice disposes. That power is not well understood even by students of the internal workings of government. If the policy-setting power of the lawyers in the Department of Justice were well understood, I don’t think anybody- Congress, the persons affected, or politically appointed agency administrators- would appreciate that fact.”

  9. Sharon, I have a question about that last quote, something I should know but I guess I don’t… Let’s say, hypothetically, an attorney files a NEPA (or ESA, or both together) suit on behalf of an enviro group, against USFS for, say, a timber sale where a ROD has been issued. The defendants (FS) can pretty much say 1) “ok we’ll hold off, and go back and do a full EIS and/or griz consultation or whatever you’re asking for”; or 2) “forget it, we’ll just cancel the whole project”; or 3) “ok, enviro jerks, let’s take it to the judge.” I always assumed (maybe naively) that it was the Regional Forester who got to make that decision, but is JWT saying that it’s a DOJ decision? That seems strange, because some of the DOJ attorneys (that I’ve encountered) total knowledge of forestry seems to consist of “green side up”. Just wondering, if you (or anybody) knows the answer. thanks, -Guy

    • My two cents on who decides if the FS defends or folds. At the district court level, if DOJ doesn’t think the FS’s position deserves defending, the Forest Service has the option of using in-house Office of General Counsel to defend itself. I’ve seen this happen once. It proved a litigation disaster for the FS. At the circuit court level, only DOJ can approve an appeal if the FS lost below. Bottom-line . . . DOJ is the world’s largest firm with a bunch of accomplished lawyers who specialize in these kinds of cases. A federal agency ignores DOJ’s legal counsel at its own peril.

  10. I watched the Natural Resources Committee hearing with great fascination, about how government works on such issues. There are many advantages and a few negatives about the bill but, it is important to address the accusations and facts surrounding the health of our forests. Yes, there ARE some situations where the Forest Service should be able to push through the legal red tape. Yes, we should also prove to the public that projects do follow existing cornerstone laws, too. The main thing that concerns me is that there will be no worthwhile Forest Service jobs funded to do the additional work. The Forest Service chooses to use inexperienced “temporary” employees, at less than “livable wages”, to do timber work, instead of offering part-time permanent jobs, with real benefits (including health plans).

    I think everyone here needs to review the text of the session to see the real issues and intent, instead of the partisan pokes from the peanut galleries. There are also several amendments that will be included. (Edit: A few of those amendments seem more like “riders”, in their own right. Some of them seem to be former bills which probably wouldn’t make it into law on their own. Some of them might also help to further drag down the bill’s credibility, as well. One example is the desire to exempt all salvage projects resulting from 2013 wildfires from judicial review, in order to expedite the salvage values of burned trees. These amendments have their own contested controversies.) While De Fazio was the lone dissenter on many individual amendment issues, he was also in favor of the substance of active forest management, to reduce destructive wildfires and increase forest health.

    I still don’t think this bill will survive the partisan nightmare in Congress, though. Again, there was no mention of how the Forest Service could accomplish the bill’s goals, without additional Forest Service funding, and personnel.

  11. @Matthew Koehler

    Re: “Ah, Larry, doesn’t Congress mandating dramatic increases in public lands logging seem rather “Soviet ‘apparatchiks’” to you?”

    –> Yes it does just like any government mandate that people don’t like. Just like the 80% reduction in harvesting on USFS lands after 1990.

    I still don’t have a clear understanding of your beliefs as to what should and shouldn’t be allowed in managing our natural resources. You certainly know where I come from. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for you to give us a baseline of beliefs that you can verbalize?

    Is there any group that you would believe if they said that the best thing, for a single 200 acre stand and its adjoining stands and all ecosystem components, would be to commercially clearcut, plant, commercially thin, control burn, commercially thin, control burn, and etc. on those 200 acres?

  12. @bobzybach Yeah, those “professional” forest chiefs were great! Back in the good old days when they built roads into unprotected wilderness, liquidated old growth, logged over riparian areas, clearcut millions of acres of native forest, suppressed fires by 10 AM, drove diverse fish & wildlife toward extinction, emitted millions of tons of carbon, and ignored public sentiment.

  13. @TreeC123
    Tree: Hyperbole and hysteria do sound kind of scary when stated like that. Don’t know where you get your “facts” or cajones in representing “public sentiment,” but you come across as pretty clueless and excitable. I could make similar claims about serial litigation or travel by automobile, but I don’t because I try to be rational about things. Once again I can understand why you hide behind a pseudonym. I’d be concerned about trying to back up that kind of nonsense too. (PS I don’t know how much carbon you’ve emitted in your lifetime, but it’s probably a lot. Fact of life for everyone. And life is a good thing.)

  14. Friends,

    That hot little send button is a curse, I have too often slung things out in a heated moment on the internet but NONE of us look good that way. Better to fake a calm smug outlook. The benefit of facebook, curse that it is, is that you can go back and trim and delete those heated posts. Sigh…too late for me, I will be buried with my foot in my mouth.

    on my tombstone they can carve my final words.

    “you knew I was right, you knew I was right…”

    Of course here at the forest institute in Hanoi, surrounded by people with no english or terrible english, I have been stepping carefully. I had to work up the nerve this morning to even come in after I had gotten a sharpish inquiry from the director yesterday to the effect of “who the hell are you and what are you doing here?” Or so it seemed to me, I thought it best to stay in bed.

    Sigh…..this was after invitations from his staff.

    These challenges will make me a much better person and then I can die in a bus wreck next week.

  15. @greg nagle
    Greg: I plan on being buried with three earlier generations of my ancestors in our family plot on a hill near Woodland, Washington. My kids have already been instructed to carve my name, appropriate dates, and “W.T.F.” on my tombstone instead of “R.I.P.” That way I’m pretty much covered for any send button sins. Plus, I’ll be dead so there’s always that.

  16. @greg nagle
    Well before Obama named a Chief, a bureaucrat in charge of making sure that the Forest Service toes the “party line” was embedded into the hierarchy. That seems more like the Soviet style of government, to me. I’m sure that is where the “senior advisors” come from. The Soviet Union didn’t allow opposing points of view. Obama has had HOW MANY years to fix all the problems that Republicans display? Clearly, some Democrats feel that everything is just fine and dandy, in our forests and rural communities. It is also very clear that we need bi-partisan ideas that include active management. Both sides have their points but, they refuse to work together.

  17. Pingback: What Rep Daines Mandated Logging Bill Would Mean for National Forests in Montana | A New Century of Forest Planning

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