How Many Democrats Will Vote for Hastings Forest Bill?

vote tally

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-WA) will bring his omnibus forestry bill to a vote tomorrow (9/19), if all goes well in the Rules Committee tonight which sets the terms of the debate. HR 1526’s (“Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act“) goal is simple — more logging on federal lands. The means, however, differ from past practice.

In the old days, when Congress wanted more logging it increased timber sale appropriations to the Forest Service to pay for sale preparation and administration. But that dog doesn’t hunt good in today’s budget slashing House. Instead, HR 1526 uses the Jean-Luc Picard tactic: “Make it so.” The bill imposes an enforceable logging mandate for each national forest amounting to no less than one-half of the forest’s long-run sustained yield growth.

Yesterday, the Congressional Budget Office released its analysis of the bill, which guesses that logging levels would double and net costs to the Treasury increase. CBO acknowledges candidly that the reality “could vary significantly from CBO’s estimate.”

That the bill will pass in the Republican-controlled House is a foregone conclusion. Its reception in the Senate, however, will depend on how many of the 200 House Democrats cast an “aye” vote.

I’ll give a “shout-out” to the reader who comes closest to the actual House Democrat vote tally. Extra credit if you predict the correct vote of Oregon’s O&C district House Democrats (DeFazio and Schrader), as their O&C bill is folded into the poison-pill Hastings package. All bets are off if Democrats let the bill pass without a recorded vote (as they did in committee).


26 thoughts on “How Many Democrats Will Vote for Hastings Forest Bill?”

  1. My prediction: 18 votes in the Senate, due more to political posturing than to the actual bill. Also, if the bill doesn’t allow for more permanent hires and more budget money, it is doomed to fail. A six month work season is inadequate to increasing acres managed. Additionally, I’d bet that the CBO counts non-commercial tasks included in projects as costly and unnecessary. Those important tasks would get paid for with logs, unless the timber sale is “axed”. In that case, those tasks will never get done.

  2. I will say 21 votes at a minimum in the Senate. It could be far more if momentum builds and this is cast as bi-partisan progress.

    It will be more interesting if the Sealaska bill gets folded into the mix. That would bring Obama Admin support in addition to Sen. Wyden and Sen Murkowski. It is a stinky give away for many small communities here is Southeast Alaska. As such, how it would play out in the House is very uncertain with conservative Tea party types.

    With 33 years of mandated timber supplies (both hard and soft) from the Tongass NF, the mandates are doomed, unless the limiting factor is strictly administrative/political and not economic. Small communities will always face major socio-economic changes beyond their control. The biggest challenge for these folks are the knot-heads who can not accept change and do more harm by standing in the way.

  3. @Joe Mehrkens
    Joe, it’s easy to “accept change” when it doesn’t affect you or your family in a negative way. If you want the change it’s different from having it imposed upon you by individuals and groups with more power. There is much literature about change in organizations that suggests this.

    I think that’s a meaningful framing of this issue… do the communities affected by FS actions and legal decisions feel that they have an adequate voice in the determination of what is allowed to happen?

  4. Andy, it would be helpful to me if you would post your analysis of the various provisions. Maybe we could then get others on the blog to do the same, and have non-partisan exchanges about this and other future bills. 🙂

  5. Mandating the volumes of timber to be harvested hardly ever helps the local communities.
    For the last ten or so years around here in the Rogue-Siskiyou and Umpqua National Forests its often, oh,”we need to meet our sale volume targets”, but we don’t have much personnel to do it so, here’s a 15 million foot thinning sale that nobody really wants, but put the price low enough so it will sell and basically give away the timber. Also add a bunch of roadwork and restrictions too, making it harder and more expensive to operate. So maybe you get one or two bidders and almost nobody benefits, and certainly the value of the resource is concentrated in one purchaser rather than distributed throughout the area.
    No, the local communities have no voice in the actions concerning our public forests management and their social and economic implications. Its only when the public entities started going broke was a real concern raised.
    I am a believer that healthy local communities and healthy forests go together.

    WASHINGTON, D.C. 20503

    September 18, 2013
    (House Rules)

    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.

  7. @Sharon
    First, people and groups with more power can routinely exercise it to the detriment of even large majorities, i.e., look at the polls on even minor additional gun controls and the response in Congress.

    This legislation is simply disingenuous and forces the FS and other agencies to implement a boom and bust mandate – with the bust coming long before the mandate will ever be achieved. Moreover, what is an adequate voice at the FS table, especially when this voice is not a common unified voice?

    To me it is almost immoral to hold out economic opportunities that the FS has no control over, especially when honest and clear anticipated changes can be predicted/presented.

  8. @Matthew Koehler

    They all sound like good reasons to vote for H.R. 1526

    Re: “negatively impact the effective U.S. stewardship of Federal lands and natural resources, undertaken on behalf of all Americans.”
    –> How could they have a more negative impact than what we already have?

  9. @Joe Mehrkens

    Re: “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”

    –> 50% of sustained yield on a portion of the total USFS forestlands leaves plenty of room to “take into account public input, environmental analyses, multiple use management or ecosystem changes”

    • Seems like plenty of specific details in the Administration statement to me, Sharon. As far as your desire for “less rhetoric” I don’t recall you mentioning that as an issue when Hastings and Co are speaking about the bill.

      Also, since you’re the chair of Society of American Foresters’ Forest Policy Committee you may be less “politically impaired” than you give yourself credit for. Speaking of, can you share with us SAF’s analysis of the Hastings Bill? Thanks.

  10. @Gil DeHuff The 50% buffer is no comfort as the 50% on the chopping block is just a high-grading guarantee. What I do appreaciate is how explicit short term timber jobs are being held in comparison with non-timber jobs and the well being of citizens derived from healthy forests. Restoration = federal monies = keeping FS alive and well — not small community stability.

  11. @Joe Mehrkens
    It would be difficult to cut 50% of the annual growth in Sierra Nevada National Forests without cutting old growth, or clearcutting. Current policy excludes both practices. The jobs issue is more about private industry jobs, and not additional Forest Service jobs. Instead, the Forest Service feels that it can continue to keep using inexperienced temporary employees to do the increasingly-complex timber sale prep work. The turnover rate is very high in those temporary timber jobs, as a “livable wage” and health benefits are not offered by the Forest Service. Those are often dead-end jobs, with no opportunity for advancement.

    Additionally, the amount of Forest Service people who can adequately control logging personnel is dwindling, with very few trainees in the pipeline. Again, the Forest Service feels they can teach people to deal with loggers and protect forest values. There are very few people who want to continue to do those jobs, once they see the challenges and efforts required, to do the job properly.

  12. My Prediction RE: “How Many Democrats Will Vote for Hastings Forest Bill?”

    Less than 5 House Dems will vote for the bill. Also, the bill won’t make it to the Senate floor and so won’t be voted on there. If it did, it would receive 0 Senate Dem votes. Do some people seriously not understand or comprehend how seriously F’ed this bill is?

  13. @Joe Mehrkens

    That would be a misinterpretation of my intent, which was only to illustrate the process of “voting.”

    My prediction FWIW is: 12 Democrat “aye” votes in the House. For extra credit, DeFazio votes “no” and Schrader votes “yes.” And to demonstrate my complete ignorance, I’ll predict a final vote of 225 “aye” to 210 “nay.” Yes, call me a starry-eyed optimistic, I’m counting on 22 “no” votes from the majority party.

    BTW, I agree that this bill never reaches the Senate floor for a vote.

  14. @Joe Mehrkens

    Did I miss something? I didn’t get the impression that we are talking about 50% of USFS lands. Aren’t we talking about 50% of some unknown subset of USFS lands? Presumably the subset would be limited to non controversial acreages suited to harvesting. But, then I have to ask myself, is there even 1% of USFS lands that are non controversial acreages suited to harvesting?

    Why are we up in arms about as yet undetermined acreage? Why are we fearing high grading if we would used rotations based on regulation where appropriate? Is there some USFS policy that says “use high grading”? Are there are USFS people who get a kickback from buyers of high graded USFS lands?

  15. My starry-eyed optimism proved unwarranted. I came reasonably close on the D’s. I predicted 12 “ayes” compared to the 17 who voted for the bill. But I underestimated the R’s cohesion, which may have been strengthened when Obama threatened a veto (the threat occurred after my prediction). So only 1 R broke party ranks. Final tally — HR 1526 passes the House 244-173.

    All eyes, that have not glazed over, turn now to Senator Wyden.

    PS: I did no better than a coin flip on Oregon’s two key D’s (DeFazio and Schrader), with both voting for the bill. I was confident about Rep. Schrader’s position as he appears to have no qualms with the national forest provisions. DeFazio, however, has been outspoken (as always) with his distaste for the Hastings provisions, but they were the price he had to pay to get his O&C title to a vote. In the past, DeFazio has voted against large bills that included things he supported, e.g., during one of the Secure Rural Schools renewals. Not this time. I can’t help but think that the over 100 environmental groups who opposed his inevitable elevation to ranking minority member of the committee might have soured him to their position. These groups, however, will now claim that his “aye” vote proves they were right. Which only shows that ostriches will not become endangered in the U.S. anytime soon.

  16. @andystahl

    Apparently, the people got their message across to the House BUT:

    If a tree falls in the forest and Harry Reid isn’t listening, does it make a noise?

    With only a 58% majority, did it really fall?

    El Presidente wins!

    Burn on Oh Stately Forests
    Munch away my precious beetles in the storied overgrown forests

    Thanks for the show
    We’ve got to go

    For down the road a way lies another forest
    That we’ve saved from the predatory capitalist and his ax men
    There we will frolic and play and extol the virtue of management by catastrophe

    Unfazed by the damage done to all of the critters killed by the burned forest
    The critters in this other forest will surely be saved from the ax men
    Oh, my, you don’t say, it burned last year, what a catastrophe

    Look over there, it is a beautiful forest all vibrant and green
    Let’s go over there and play
    You say it is owned by a dirty capitalist to make filthy green
    This is a plantation that has been thinned twice, heaven forbid, you don’t say

  17. @andystahl
    Andy– I think the tide is turning to a degree. The idea that “nothing is wrong so don’t change anything” is a dog that doesn’t hunt for these D’s in Oregon.

    I wish we could together find a better way. I think there would be a variety of ways to protect the environment and give people more certainty about timber- maybe even some that folks could more or less agree on.

    I think this is one of those times that politics is hurting rather than helping find common ground. Maybe a bipartisan team of state folks from all the groups needs to come up with recommendations. Or did the Gov already do this? How did that translate into the current bills?

  18. @Sharon

    Why would you think that there is any chance for finding common ground? I have yet to see any sign of the members on the environmental group side of this NCFP group even wanting to find common ground. We have tried to get people to lay out their objectives and principles and all we get from the non forester side is a non reply. They know that even the slightest verbalization of anything beyond a motherhood and apple pie statement would limit their power. That leads me to conclude that their only objective is to maintain their veto power on any proposed action. As long as there is any remote chance of any as yet undiscovered environmental impact on any component of any forest ecosystem, any commitment to live by an agreement is anathema to most environmental groups and the politicians that they control.

    As I have said before, the majority of the environmental groups have everything that they want. Why would they want to share their power? There is nothing that the “nature only segment” can’t get from litigation. Why would they want to limit their control by committing to some grand agreement that requires them to cede some of their power?

  19. @Gil DeHuff
    Gil: I think it is deeper than that. We are playing with religious beliefs here. What is the chance of a Catholic becoming convinced that Jewish people really had the right idea? Or of a Muslim converting to Hinduism? Those things do happen here and there, but it almost always has more to do with sex than with logic. You are just assuming (and wrongly from my perspective) that the enviros already “have everything that they want.” Does an alcoholic already have all the alcohol that he/she wants? Of course not — people always thirst for more of what they are after. You’re dealing with human nature here, not facts or current circumstances. Both (“all”) sides are certain they are right, and they all want more, no matter how much they have. There is no “common ground” and there never will be. Just concessions and exhaustion.

  20. Mandates drove the Tongass on orders from Stevens and Murkowski until the short fall was revealed by Shoaf ( a fact all the >G-11s had known all along).

    As predicted, you cannot mandate more than is there forever. The inevitable bust occured. Gridlock has doomed these bills, whatever the merits they might or might not have.

    Who drove Murkowski and Stevens? It was the people whose livelyhoods were sustained by taxpayer subsidies– the loggers, the USFS managers, and the towns which reaped the cash flowing from taxpayer subsidies. So it is really a chicken and an egg conundrum. Will the politicians hatch more golden eggs when the chicken is egged out or will the people discover how to create businesses independent of government subsidy?

    Meanwhile who will roost on the eggs?


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