Sweeping timber reform package moves forward in U.S. House


We’ve been writing for years now about two proposals to increase the federal timber harvest: one by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to boost the harvest around the country and another by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to boost the harvest in Oregon.

Lo and behold, both those proposals passed last week out of the House Natural Resources Committee (of which Hastings is the chairman). Not only that but several other timber reform proposals were attached to the same legislation to form a super bill of sorts for timber reform, called the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act.”

Also part of the bill, according to the Capital Press:

The package…incorporates a proposal by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, that seeks a long-term alternative to Secure Rural Schools funding by enabling some counties to manage their own land and generate the revenue needed to improve schools and roads.

(The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Public Lands Council) particularly applauded the forestry package’s inclusion of a bill by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., which would put hard deadlines on analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act in areas with excessive fuel loads. The proposal would expedite livestock grazing and timber thinning to reduce hazardous fuels, the organizations explain.

The bill also includes a measure by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., to take further steps to reduce NEPA impediments to fuel-reduction projects, the groups observe.

This is a big step in the long-running effort to restore federal timber harvest and help the economies of rural communities. But it’s far from the final step.

The timber reform package still needs to pass the full House, and while that seems likely, the Democrat-controlled Senate is a different story. In the Senate, the key player is Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore,, the head of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Fortunately, Wyden has pledged to release his own proposal in coming weeks to increase the federal timber harvest. Though it likely will not go nearly as far as Hastings’ and DeFazio’s proposals.

Still, the House proposal will help guide the debate and the final product will likely be somewhere in between what the House and Senate want.

DeFazio seems hopeful a solution will be reached.

“Senator Wyden is working on parallel legislation that will differ in significant aspects,” DeFazio said. “Over the last few months, I have had conversations with Senator Wyden and I am hopeful the House will pass our bill, and his legislation will pass the Senate. From there, we can move to a conference and finalize a bill that meets common objectives and could be signed into law by the president,” he added.

Environmental groups would just as soon not increase the federal timber harvest at all, ignoring the mismanagement by federal leaders and the economic plight of rural communities. Here’s how Dick Hughes, editorial page editor for the Salem Statesman Journal, put it:

…Oregon environmentalists going overboard have denounced aspects of the House legislation, which is as frustrating as their continued lawsuits to block reasonable logging and wildfire-preventive forest thinning.

But as DeFazio wryly noted, “We all love forests in different ways.”

The Medford Mail Tribune is calling on Sen. Wyden to come up with a proposal that brings meaningful reform to rural towns in Oregon and the federal forestland in Oregon known as “O&C” land.

Wyden has his own “framework for legislation,” which mirrors portions, but definitely not all, of the House bill. The devil is the details, as always, but there’s one big difference in the two plans that could derail the deal: Wyden does not support setting up a land trust that would be managed by the state. That raises questions about whether his legislation would accomplish anything meaningful — if the option remains for timber sales to be routinely stopped by lawsuits, how would anything have changed?

…Resource-based communities have no fallback answers: Tourism is fine, high-tech is fine, wine production is fine, but none of them create the kind of economic foundation that rural communities need, not only to prosper, but to survive.

…Gone with those blue-collar foundation jobs is the blue-collar middle class. Rather than working in mills, working in the woods, driving trucks, providing supplies, the one-time blue-collar worker now lines up to apply for a $9-an-hour job at an outlet mall. There is a deep-seated desperation and anger among those families, feelings that in turn are directed at local governments that are trying to provide basic services.

No one is proposing the end of environmental regulation in the O&C forests; it is needed more than ever as humanity’s presence envelopes the natural world. But any real change must provide a reasonable expectation that timber can be harvested when federal resource managers say it can be done in an environmentally sensitive way.