This week the House began debate on the optimistically named, “Resilient Federal Forests Act”, otherwise known as the “Westerman Bill”. It is the least discussed bill that most directly impacts our daily lives here in District One. Presented as a ‘Common Sense Forest Protection Bill’, it does little, if anything to protect our forests. Instead it is littered with loopholes and exceptions, essentially giving free reign to unchecked, abusive land practices for generations at a time. It guts environmental protections and current forest management policy, making them strictly ‘optional’’. Here are just a few of the bill’s highlights:
It requires the Bureau of Land Management to offer for sale at least 500 million board feet of timber from Oregon and California public lands, even when the maximum sustainable yield is much lower than that. It allows logging and salvage projects under 15 square miles to avoid detailed environmental review. Fifteen square miles is the size of the city of Oroville. And these same permissions would be allowed nationwide for logging, grazing, ‘livestock infrastructure construction’ (think pig barns and their reclaiming ponds), and herbicide application under the guise of ‘wildfire risk mitigation’. As long as it’s under 15 square miles, they are free to do as they please.
And once a timber or mining project is underway, under the House bill, it can remain unchallenged and unchanged for a generation. If passed, these projects could double their maximum duration without public review from 10 to 20 years. And Big Timber wins big as the bill reallocates money from forest stewardship and restoration, and instead funds the administration of the sale of even more timber contracts.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa, whose constituents are most directly affected by this draconian bill, is likely to vote Yes on it, for the short term benefit of potential job growth. But technology and biotech have forever changed the way we log in California. It’s automation and foreign competition that is the job killer in the timber industry, not the tired excuse of environmental protections.
While the fire season is well underway, and Governor Jerry Brown has declared a State of Emergency, it is important to look at our forest management practices. There is room for improvement and we can adjust policies that simply didn’t work out in our collective best interests. And no one wants the government to tell us what we can do with our personal property. But surely there is some middle ground here that can prevent us from returning to the bad-old days of the 70’s, when thick polluted air and clear cutting the landscape was the norm. Surely we can avoid this irreversible over-correction.
Be sure to register and vote in 2018