Washington,
28
August
2018
|
08:29 PM
America/New_York

For Immediate Release

Forest Ecology, Wildlife Experts to Farm Bill Conferees: Reject the House Farm Bill

Today 16 leading experts in forest ecology and management, including esteemed professors Norman Christensen of Duke University and Jerry Franklin of the University of Washington, sent a letter to members of Congress who will conference on the Farm Bill describing their concerns on the Forestry Title of H.R. 2, The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the House of Representative’s version of the Farm Bill.

Excerpts from the letter:

“Wildfire funding and management should concentrate on effective, science-based prevention programs such as controlled burning and fuel reduction. But the House bill does not properly address these issues. Instead, it ignores the critical role of climate change in driving today’s wildfires and focuses on accelerated commercial logging and road building — which generally exacerbate fire risk — with little consideration of impacts on water quality, wildlife, or recreational values.”

“Many of the House bill’s forestry provisions are not supported by science. For instance, the bill seeks to aggressively expand post-fire ‘salvage’ logging on public lands to prevent wildfire, when in reality post-fire logging occurs primarily for economic reasons and rarely contributes to ecological recovery in the disturbed area. Post-fire logging of dead or dying trees is appropriate near roads where standing dead trees pose a safety hazard but should generally be avoided in areas where maintaining natural ecosystem processes is a priority. However, the House language does not recognize this key distinction.”

“By exempting controversial projects from meaningful evaluation and public engagement, the House farm bill runs counter to basic principles of science-based forest management, including the use of best available science and the application of robust decision-making processes. If they were to become law, the House farm bill’s forestry provisions would result in poorly planned, ineffective and harmful management actions that fail to address the vital need to improve the climate and fire resiliency of our national forests and the safety of our communities.”

Statement from Defenders of Wildlife Director of Federal Lands Peter Nelson:

“Wildfire management is incredibly challenging, and we need to develop, fund and implement science-based, bipartisan solutions rather than scapegoat stakeholders and undermine environmental protections for forests and people. Our nation’s forests, watersheds, communities and firefighters deserve nothing less.

“As House and Senate conferees negotiate the Farm Bill, they should take note that many of the nation’s preeminent forest scientists reject the House forestry title, which undermines science-based management and informed management of our national forests.”

Background:

Title VIII – Logging Operations, Categorical Exclusions & National Environmental Policy Act Exemptions

Replete with extreme provisions that undermine bedrock environmental laws and forest safeguards, Title VIII of the Farm Bill runs contrary to the fire funding and forestry compromise Congress reached last spring in the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus, causing irreparable harm to our federal forests and the communities and wildlife that depend on them. On May 11, 171 conservation groups sent a letter to Congress opposing the Forestry Title in the Farm Bill. Among other things, Title VIII:

  • Doubles the size of existing exemptions. The bill expands the largest legislated exemptions to allow 6,000-acre logging projects to be approved without basic review and oversight provided under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This would exempt almost 10 square miles of logging at once (an area nearly half the size of Manhattan).
  • Creates numerous new exemptions to review (also for projects up to 6,000 acres). These additional exemptions cover almost every logging project conceivable, and with no limit on the number or proximity of exempt projects that could be stacked to cover huge sections of our forests.
  • Guts “extraordinary circumstances” protections under NEPA. This does away with a critical safety net provision in current law. The change would allow the forest service to ignore impacts to listed species, sensitive species, wilderness areas and other extraordinary circumstances when approving the use of exemptions.
  • Removes requirements to focus projects near communities. The bill strikes a requirement in current law (and in the Omnibus agreement) that projects must be in the wildland urban interface – where communities and forests meet – to be exempt. This change not only opens more remote and pristine areas to logging exempted from environmental review, but it also takes the focus away from communities most at risk from forest fire.
  • Allows the Forest Service to waive endangered species consultations. The bill waives existing law that requires the Forest Service to consult with Fish and Wildlife Service experts if a proposed activity may affect an endangered species. Instead, the bill would allow the Forest Service to determine unilaterally that an activity is not likely to adversely affect a listed species or critical habitat. Courts have found this type of “self-consultation” to be a violation of the ESA.
  • Attacks Landmark Roadless Rule. The proposal would allow harmful forest management activities to occur within roadless areas if they are consistent with local forest plans, even if those activities are prohibited by national or state-specific roadless rules.

These and other extensive rollbacks in the legislation vault the narrow interests of the logging industry above those of all other forest stakeholders. They systematically reduce oversight of public land management and consistently undermine protections for drinking water, wildlife, recreation and the many other benefits of these cherished areas.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit Newsroom.Defenders.org and follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.