Congress: “Time Has Come” to Repair Forest Management Laws

Here is a recent article by Alan Kovski, who’s work has been discussed here previously:

 This article is reproduced with permission from Daily Environment Report, 73 DEN A-6 (Apr. 16, 2013). Copyright 2013 by The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. (800-372-1033) <>

Here is where a PDF of the complete April 16, 2013 BNA Daily Report can be obtained:(whoops — forgot how to link a PDF form to these posts. Will fix ASAP, if I can).

Lawmakers Stress Time Has Come To Revamp Federal Forest Management

By Alan Kovski | April 15, 2013 09:50PM ET

(BNA) — Five Bills on Forest Management

Key Provisions: Congress is preparing for action to force the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to allow more timber cutting on federal lands.

Potential Impact: The bills could boost rural economies and reduce the risk of wildfires.

What’s Next: House Natural Resources Committee action is expected.

Members of Congress are preparing for action on bills to force the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to allow more timber cutting on federal lands to benefit people in rural areas and reduce wildfires.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and author of one of the bills, stressed during an April 11 subcommittee hearing that the time for action has arrived. “We are going to move forward with legislation,” he said.

Above all else, lawmakers cited the poor economic conditions in many rural areas-including poverty and high unemployment-as a motivating factor. Lawmakers also said selective tree cutting would increase the health of forests by reducing the size and severity of wildfires and insect infestations.

“Right now, multiple counties in my district and in Western Oregon are approaching insolvency,” Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in explaining legislation he and two colleagues have been circulating in draft form. “Many of these counties have real unemployment at or above 20 percent. Poverty is widespread and crippling.”

Like Hastings, DeFazio wants action soon. “The bottom line is, doing nothing is not an option,” DeFazio said.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.) said his rural district with extensive national forests is losing people as they give up on finding work in the area. “We’re depopulating in eight of my counties,” he said.

Limits Proposed on Environmental Analyses

The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation discussed several bills aimed at revamping forest management practices, changes that would boost timber companies and sawmills and through them the communities.

Hastings, DeFazio, and several other members of Congress expressed particular concern about the scheduled expiration of the Secure Rural Schools program Sept. 30. Many rural school districts depend on a share of timber sale revenue for their survival.

A bill written by Hastings, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (number not yet assigned), would require designation of parts of national forests where revenue would be generated from sales of materials. Annual volume of such materials would be no less than 50 percent of sustained yield.

The bill would limit National Environmental Policy Act requirements by specifying no need for the study of alternatives and by limiting each analysis to 100 pages. The bill also would provide categorical exclusions for proposed actions involving less than 10,000 acres, devised in response to catastrophic events, or developed for community wildfire protection plans.

“This draft legislation is intended as a starting point,” Hastings said.

Bills Would Speed Up Action

Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) spoke about his bill, the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818), which would force the Forest Service and BLM to expedite hazardous fuels reduction, which typically means a mix of tree thinning, deadwood removal, and prescribed burning. His bill would use the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003 as a model.

The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act (H.R. 1294), proposed by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), would establish “community forest demonstration areas” in national forests and create boards of trustees to manage those areas, with a mix of federal, state, and private interests on the board.

A share of revenue would go to local schools and communities, either through the formula of the soon-to-expire Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 (16 U.S.C. 7111), or the older formula of the Forest Service section in a 1908 law (16 U.S.C. 5000).

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) vividly described the destructive effects of wildfires in his state as he advocated for his Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 1345). The bill would expedite Forest Service and BLM work to prevent fires through such means as tree thinning. It also would speed up and limit the scope of NEPA environmental analyses.

Honoring of 1937 Law Sought

The O&C Trust, Conservation and Jobs Act (no number assigned yet) drafted by DeFazio and fellow Oregon Reps. Greg Walden (R) and Kurt Schrader (D) would force BLM to honor a 1937 law known as the O&C Lands Act, which was written to require that BLM lands in southwestern Oregon be managed to produce timber harvests for the economic well-being of local counties. Under that law, 50 percent of timber revenue goes directly to counties.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), ranking member of the subcommittee, agreed on the need for action but expressed frustration that Democrats were excluded from the drafting of the chairman’s bill. He objected to elements in the Republican bills that would involve “skirting public opinion” and would mandate timber harvest levels.

“This is grandstanding and not legislating,” Grijalva said.

But Grijalva, too, indicated there was a need for action. “There’s a crisis in our forests,” he said, noting a growth in the size and severity of forest fires. “I’m ready to sit down with my colleagues and try to work out something that has a realistic chance of becoming law.”

Administration Opposed to Some Bills

At the April 11 hearing, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said the Obama administration opposed the Tipton, Labrador, and Gosar bills, notably because they would shift some degree of authority to states from the federal government.

Tidwell argued that the Forest Service already has goals for expanded timber harvests, within the limits imposed by constrained budgets and the low prices that the service has been seeing for its wood.

Republicans on the subcommittee were uniform in their criticism of the administration for requesting an increase in federal funds for purchasing land when the government is so deeply in debt that it is cutting many programs. They said the administration is not effectively managing the land the government already owns.

Question of Which Public Served

Members of Congress and Tidwell circled around the question of what public was being served by the administration’s public land policies.

Tidwell said the administration was “driven by what we hear from the public.” Lawmakers emphasized the public in communities adjacent to federal lands.

“You keep saying that the public wants this,” Labrador said. “What public are you talking to?”

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) asked Tidwell whether the Forest Service prioritizes or weights its estimates of public input to recognize that local communities have more at stake. There needs to be a weighting, Thompson said.

“There’s no weighting going on,” Tidwell said. “We don’t prioritize.”

National environmental groups in recent years have resisted the idea of showing greater concern for the economics or opinions of local communities near the forests. National land belongs to the whole nation, including environmentalists and others in cities far from the forests, they argue. 

For More Information

The forest management bills discussed during an April 11 House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing are available, along with prepared testimony and an archived hearing webcast, at

5 thoughts on “Congress: “Time Has Come” to Repair Forest Management Laws”

  1. All these proposals seem to think Congress can just waive a magic wand in front the of the Forest Service and all the barriers will fall to speed action. They seem to forget that increasing controversial activities will impede rather than speed up forest management. The public has many ways to make their will known.

    • Tree: Is that you, representing the American public again? Fact is, we are in the mess we’re in because of laws and regulations posted by Congress during the past 40 years. No, they can’t just “wave a magic wand,” but they could consider and vote on rules and regulations that could mitigate much of the current conflict and opportunistic legal filings. That would mean they would have to do the work they were elected to do.

  2. Thanks to Bob for his summary of the current legislative debate about forest management. It would be helpful if all involved in this endless arguement about the forests take a moment to look at some basics like America’s need for natural resources. With a population of 313 million and growing a reality check on consumption of resources such as clean ari, water and wood fiber might be in order. The Resource Planning Act attempts to look at supply and demand, but very few people look at this detalied report periodicallyt required by Congress. And then it might be wise to ask the question, where are all of these resources going to come from in the future ?. .

  3. The rampant bias of the underlying report from “The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.” is evidenced by its equation of “Congress” and the “House Natural Resources Committee.”

    The latter is a bunch of hard-right showboats with little track record of achieving action.

    What’s really troubling is that Peter DeFazio has been teaming with them. Ouch on that!


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