Baseball bats could help lead to federal timber reform


Several U.S. senators from the Northwest say they are optimistic that legislation to end the practice of “fire borrowing” could finally be approved in Congress. The bill would end the U.S. Forest Service’s practice of raiding other parts of its budget, including money set aside for wildfire prevention, to meet the rising cost of fighting wildfires each summer.

The reason for the new hope? It has something to do with baseball bats.

McClatchy explains:

In an odd twist of politics, Western lawmakers might soon benefit as a bright green beetle spreads across upstate New York, threatening the trees used to produce bats for Major League Baseball.

The pest, called the emerald ash borer, is a particular headache for New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer. During a recent visit to the Rawlings Adirondack Bat Factory in Dolgeville, N.Y., Schumer said the infestation could kill millions of ash trees and that “America’s favorite pastime has also taken a hit.” He wants Congress to respond but complained that federal money to fight the beetle has been diverted to pay for the rising costs of fighting wildfires.

Schumer’s frustration has sparked an unusual alliance with Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who for years have sponsored a bill to get Congress to treat wildfires as national disasters.

The support of Schumer could be enough to push the timber reform legislation through, sponsors say.

“Senator Schumer obviously is a very influential member, and so it’s very good news,” (Sen.) Crapo said in an interview. “We certainly have developed the momentum. … I think there’s a very good chance that we will be able to get across the finish line this year.”

And (Sen.) Wyden called it “pretty amazing” to have New York’s senior senator on board.

“He’s somebody who’s got a real bully pulpit – that is a huge plus,” Wyden said in an interview. “Look, there’s not a lot of national forests in Brooklyn, but what’s happened is that fire borrowing has so discombobulated the system. What you have now is members from all parts of the country saying we’ve got to end this.”

Wyden’s strategy for passing the bill is to get it attached to a broader energy bill when House and Senate conferees begin their negotiations after the summer recess. The Senate conferees include Wyden and two other key backers of the legislation, Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell and Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch.

“We’re well-positioned – it’s my top priority for the energy conference,” Wyden said.

We wrote last month about Sen. Maria Cantwell’s strong support for the legislation, and we wrote in June about the support from Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark.