Comments are due on Monday June 13, 2016. Send in yours today! More about the problems with this draft legislation below:
At the end of May four U.S. Senators from Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Idaho who are on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources issued a draft bill entitled “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act“. Unfortunately this legislation once again proposes to dramatically increase logging (yes, including clearcutting) on National Forests and other public lands while simultaneously eliminating environmental protections for our western forests. Trying to capitalize on the fear stemming from last summers fires in the Pacific Northwest, these Senators demonize fire, a natural process essential to the survival of native plant and animal biodiversity, in order to gift away our public forests to the timber industry at great expense to taxpayers.
Specific Problems with this Draft Legislation:
- Guarantees annual appropriations of approximately $1.2 billion for firefighting on federal lands, without discussing when and where fires should be fought or ensuring that the money is used to fight fires near communities. [Section 101].
- Allows for this $1.2 billion to be increased in high fire years, without limit. [Section 102].
- Permits the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to retain any leftover fire suppression monies (i.e., any amount of the annual $1.2 billion that was not used to fight fires) and utilize it for logging. There is no limit on the size of tree that can be cut down, or restriction on where fire suppression money can be used for logging (i.e. no requirement that the money be spent to protect at-risk-communities, just that the Secretary shall give “priority to projects that (A) are within or adjacent to – at risk communities . . . “).[Section 102].
- Lots of self reporting by the agencies, no oversight by Congress, no indication of what the reporting will be used for except to establish the next years waste of taxpayer dollars. There is no required reporting on the environmental costs of failing to let fires burn, of suppression activities (including use of bulldozers and flame retardant dropped from planes), or the landscape level logging to be subsidized by taxpayers. [Section 103].
- In addition to no reporting on ecosystems costs of fighting fires or landscape level logging to “reduce fuels”, the bill will curtail or in certain circumstances eliminate entirely the assessment of environmental harms associated with the wide scale logging proposed by the bill. [Section 301 and 331(c) ]. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was created in order to keep track of environmental harms caused by government action and disclose these harms to the public, the goal being the creation of projects which minimize environmental harms to the greatest extent possible. This legislation would eliminate this analysis whenever the Secretaries of Agriculture (Forest Service) or Dept. of Interior (BLM) declare an “emergency” [Section 331(c)] and would curtail the analysis on all other logging projects by only giving the public two choices anytime they propose a project – i.e., do nothing or extensively log the area – even when something less than the proposal would be advisable and even in circumstances where the agency admits that the project will cause significant environmental harm. [Section 301].
- Monies allocated for assisting at risk communities in planning and preparing for wildfire (unlike money for fire suppression/logging) is subject to appropriations (meaning that it is not automatically funded each year).[Section 204].
- Finally, the bill never acknowledges fire’s (including large so called mega-fires where 20-30% of an area is burned at high intensity) essential and necessary role in maintaining native plant and animal biodiversity and never questions the insanity of spending over a billion dollars a year to fight a process (fire) which naturally restores our forest ecosystems.
This legislation, if it passes, will:
- result in catastrophic losses of habitat across the West, placing already imperiled species at greater risk of extinction.
- reduce the health and resilience of our forests by homogenizing the ecosystem, eliminating snags (dead trees), downed logs, shrubs and other essential understory plants and reducing biodiversity.
- will hasten and exacerbate the effects of climate change. Because much of of this bill is concerned with expediting and subsidizing logging, more trees will be removed from our forests. As a result, more carbon through logging operations, milling and/or biomass burning will be emitted into the atmosphere while at the same time the number of trees, shrubs and other understory plants which absorb carbon in our forests will be reduced.
- But here is the real rub, what they are proposing to do WILL NOT REDUCE FIRE RISK! Logging does not prevent fires or in anyway affect whether or where a fire may burn, and only under the most benign weather conditions can small tree thinning (trees less than 10″ in diameter) affect how intensely a fire may burn. Removing larger trees (which this bill most certainly allows [Section 331(4)(A)(v)]) can actually increase how intense a fire burns because it eliminates the trees that could buffer the wind and slow a fire down. Large fires are driven by weather (temperature and wind), not vegetation, and forests do not need to be protected from fire, but human communities do. Unfortunately, because the focus of this bill is on logging “hazardous fuels”, otherwise known as habitat, this bill will not protect communities.
Scientifically, this draft bill is exactly the WRONG approach to creating more resilient, biodiverse and healthy forests, protecting communities or staving off the effects of climate change. So Please Contact the Senate Committee and your U.S. Senators Today!
Please send a comment to the Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) telling them that their approach is self-serving and will not protect forests or communities. Let them know that we need real Wildfire Fighting and Budgeting reform, and not the same old politics of using natural events (wildfires) to increase the wealth of their contributors.
After you have sent your email to the Senate Committee please call the U.S. Senators from your state and tell them that any Wildlfire Budgeting Bill should not include an increase in funding for so called “fuels reduction” logging or a rewriting and weakening of environmental laws, but should be focused on reforming when, whether, where and how we fight wildfires and what can be done to create fire adapted/fire permeable communities. We need to move into the 21st century and coexist with wildland fires, and stop using fire to scare people into approving more taxpayer dollars to destroy our native ecosystems.
Thank you for standing up for our planet!
John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute