Opposition to efforts by some members of Congress to mandate more logging on federal forests is on the rise, with environmental organizations and scientists recently circulating strong statements.
The letters relate to two forestry bills pending in Washington: H.R. 1526 and S. 1479.
The scientists’ communique, which is signed by 250 individuals, urges Congress to avoid any requirement to increase logging in forest stands that have been damaged by fire.
“Both bills ignore the current state of scientific knowledge, which indicates that such activity would seriously undermine the ecological integrity of forest ecosystems on federal lands,” the scientists’ letter argues.
The scientists explained that snags, which are the standing remains of incinerated trees, are important habitat for a variety of bird species and that the wild flowers that grow in burned areas encourage re-population of the area by pollinators. They also point out a variety of other ecosystem benefits of burned forest stand areas that the legislation would compromise:
Numerous studies also document the cumulative impacts of post-fire logging on natural ecosystems, including the elimination of bird species that are most dependent on such conditions, compaction of soils, elimination of biological legacies (snags and downed logs) that are essential in supporting new forest growth, spread of invasive species, accumulation of logging slash that can add to future fire risks, increased mortality of conifer seedlings and other important re-establishing vegetation (from logs dragged uphill in logging operations), and increased chronic sedimentation in streams due to the extensive road network and runoff from logging operations.
The environmentalists’ letter, which is signed by 20, mostly West coast, advocacy organizations and is addressed to U.S. secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. secretary of interior Sally Jewell, highlights the likelihood that increased logging in disturbed areas of federal forests would contradict a recovery plan for the endangered northern spotted owl.
“Plans to boost post-fire logging in spotted owl habitat ignore the best available science and would cause harm to old-growth forests,” Steve Holmer, a senior policy advisor at American Bird Conservancy, said. “Government scientists have concluded that in order to recover the rapidly declining northern spotted owl population, protection is needed for forest structures created by fires such as large standing dead trees that are used by the owls to nest in.”
The impact of the bills on forest landscapes impacted by wildfire is not the only criticism aimed at them.
Several environmental groups have loudly objected to the House bill’s waivers of laws that currently apply to logging operations.
“H.R. 1526 would carve gaping loopholes in the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and other bedrock environmental laws,” The Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams said in a statement. “This would lead to dirty water and air, and destroy recreational opportunities.”
The House bill would set a statutory floor on the amount of logging undertaken in federal forests, doubling the amount that now occurs.
It would also prevent judicial review of most decisions to cut trees within designated “forest reserve revenue areas” that, for the first time, would require Washington to comply with a “fiduciary” obligation to provide revenues from logging to counties in which federal forests are located.
H.R. 1526, the proposed Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, cleared the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 20. It is now pending in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee along with a similar bill, S. 1479.
President Obama warned on Sept. 18 that he would veto H.R. 1526, or similar legislation, if it reaches his desk.