Greenwire article from last week….
Of the roughly 315 timber sales and stewardship contracts offered, 16 were challenged in court and delayed, Tidwell told the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry.
The hearing was to discuss the 2015 wildfire season, in which more than 9 million acres have burned, costing the Forest Service $1.7 billion in suppression.
Panel Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said the Forest Service needs to more aggressively thin overstocked forests using logging and prescribed burns.
Tidwell said the Forest Service expects to achieve 97 percent of its timber sale target this year.
Collaborative forestry projects have enlisted support from conservation groups that have been willing to defend the agency when it is challenged in court, he said.
The House recently passed legislation, H.R. 2647 by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), that seeks to reduce the amount of litigation hindering forestry work. It would require litigants to post a bond to cover the government’s anticipated legal costs, which would not be reimbursed unless the litigant succeeded on all the claims in the case.
Litigation has been a significant impediment in the agency’s Northern Region, which includes parts of Washington, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas. A report released in spring by researchers at the University of Montana found that in recent years, “litigation has encumbered 40 [percent] to 50 percent of [the region’s] planned timber harvest volume and treatment acres.”
“Appeals, lawsuits and especially the threat of lawsuits has paralyzed and demoralized the Forest Service and created perverse incentives to ‘do nothing,'” Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said at a June hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee.
But a bigger impediment to selling timber this year was lack of bidding, Tidwell said. More than 50 timber sales this year drew no bids, a consequence of “very difficult markets,” he said. Some timber sales were too large to draw bids and had to be reconfigured to garner industry interest, he said.
“We have to do a better job to make sure we’re in sync with not only the market but what the purchasers need,” Tidwell said.
Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) said the issue has less to do with markets than it does with the difficulty of purchasing federal timber.
“We’ve got a lot of mills in my district that need fiber, but they’ve kind of given up on going to the Forest Service to get wood because it’s too onerous,” Benishek said.
Tidwell this morning also praised Congress for giving the agency new categorical exclusion authority in the 2014 farm bill for timber projects up to 3,000 acres in size to respond to and prevent attacks from insects and disease. He said the agency is currently pursuing 20 projects using that authority.
The Westerman bill would allow categorical exclusions on projects up to 15,000 acres under certain conditions. It would also set deadlines for the completion of National Environmental Policy Act reviews for post-fire salvage projects.
The Obama administration said it strongly opposes the measure.
Tidwell said he supports categorical exclusions to the extent that they allow the Forest Service to maintain the trust of the public.
“When we’re talking about using categorical exclusions, it’s a good tool for small projects,” Tidwell said. “But we have to be thinking much larger.”
He emphasized the need for evaluating treatments on hundreds of thousands of acres at a time to achieve greater administrative efficiencies and restore forests at a landscape scale