timberland sizing House bill forces Forest Service to cut 50 percent of timberland
Forest Service’s available timberland and erecting barriers to legal challenges of timber sales.
Rep. Steve Daines, R Mont., a co sponsor of the legislation, said it will mean a major boost for the Montana logging industry.
“The number of jobs created, using Congressional Budget Office numbers, is approximately 5,000 jobs for Montana,” Daines said after the 244 173 bipartisan vote. “It would apply to all 10 national forests in Montana.”
Daines attached two amendments to the bill on Thursday and Friday. One would require the Forest Service to provide an annual one page statement of revenues from timber sales to track harvest progress. The other would bar courts from issuing temporary injunctions on timber projects while they’re being challenged in court.
The Obama administration announced Wednesday it would probably veto the bill if it reached the White House in its current form. The bill also drew fire from some conservation groups.
“The Wilderness Society supports sustainable forest restoration and timber harvesting, but this radical measure would require ‘logging without laws,’ supersede any local collaborative forest efforts, and mandate huge increases in logging,” society president Jamie Williams said in an email on Friday. 1526 would carve gaping loopholes in the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and other bedrock environmental laws. This would lead to dirty water and air, and destroy recreational opportunities.”
Daines called the bill a starting point for further forest harvest policy.
“I think the president was a bit premature,” Daines said. “The next step is to work with the Senate to get a bill for signing. The Senate hasn’t produced a forest initiative. The House just did today. Doc Hastings, R Ore., said the Forest Service now spends $2 for every dollar it produces from timber harvest. He added that in 2012, 9.3 million acres of national forest burned while 200,000 acres were logged.
“The bill requires responsible timber production on at least half of the Forest Service’s commercial timber lands areas that were specifically identified by the Forest Service for timber harvest,” Hastings told the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday. “By helping to restore active forest management, this bill would create over 200,000 direct and indirect jobs and would provide nearly $400 million in savings over 10 years.”
Daines said he looked forward to working with Sen. Jon Tester, D Mont., whose Forest Jobs and Recreation Act imposes a smaller mandated harvest pilot project on two national forests in the state. Tester’s bill also designates about 1 million acres of federal recreation areas and wilderness, while the House bill has no wilderness provisions.
“Jon welcomes the attention from Congress on forest management issues, but prefers balanced solutions built from the ground up,” Tester spokeswoman Andrea Helling said in an email on Friday. “As for Jon’s Forest Jobs and Recreation Act, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee had a hearing on the bill in July and we are awaiting a vote in the committee sometime this fall.”
Another part of the House bill would make the Forest Service share 25 percent of its timber revenue with affected counties where the cutting took place. This would restore a policy the agency followed from 1908 to 2000, when shrinking timber sales prompted Congress to replace it with the Secure Rural Schools Act.
Daines said the House bill would require $375 million in new money from Congress in 2014 to support the counties while the new timber sale revenue built up. But as those timber sales contributions became more regular, the legislation would reduce federal spending by $269 million between 2014 and 2023.
Montana county commissioners in Fergus, Granite, Judith Basin, Madison, Musselshell, Pondera, Powder River, Powell, Richland, Sanders and Stillwater counties have all endorsed the bill. One portion allows the creation of “community forest demonstration areas” where local counties would manage parts of national forests, while another would give states a more active role in hazardous fuel reduction projects on federal land.