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November 17, 2005

Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act: Common Sense or Disaster?

Environment News Service reports (Nov. 3) on The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act (HR 4200). The Act is billed by its co-sponsorss as a responsible, commonsense approach to working in forests soon after natural events like fire, hurricanes, and windstorms.

HR 4200 sponsor, Greg Waldon of Oregon, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health says, "Today in America's forests, it can take three years for the federal government to cut a burned, dead tree after a fire. And by the time the decision is finally made, the trees have often rotted, become bug infested and lost much of their value."

But Lisa Dix, National Forest Program Director for American Lands Alliance, says that the bill "sweeps aside public forest protections [and] eliminates meaningful environmental review and cuts the public out of decisions that would harm America's public forests."

Ashland News adds this (Nov. 11) :

Chief Dale Bosworth and Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett told Walden that their agencies support H.R. 4200, which would give federal land managers the ability to more quickly address recovery of national forestlands damaged by a catastrophic event - such as fire, ice storms, windstorms or hurricanes - if expedited action is necessary for the health and restoration of the forest.

"We believe H.R. 4200 would provide some innovative authorities to improve the ability of the Secretary to promptly implement recovery treatments in response to catastrophic events affecting federal lands...The Department strongly supports the goals of the legislation and its intent to get recovery actions accomplished promptly while focusing on maintaining sound environmental decision-making and public involvement," Chief Bosworth told members of the Subcommittee.

Yet-another Bill to keep track of. So many Bills, so little time! True, no matter which side of the issue you stand on. There are just SO many Bills working there way through the Congress….

Posted by Dave on November 17, 2005 at 08:03 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: Jonathan Thompson

I am not opposed to post-fire logging, per se. But having said that, I worry that limiting or expediting environmental review will only lead to more follies by the Forest Service. Take the Biscuit Fire. Proponents of HR4200 like to cite the Biscuit as a poster-child for “analysis paralysis.” True; the Biscuit has been under a magnifying lens since 2002. That not withstanding, the post-fire logging has resulted in considerable, unforeseen environmental damage due to inadequate planning and oversight: This includes the illegal logging of a botanical reserve (http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2005/1110/local/stories/17local.htm) and the illegal logging of scores of live trees http://www.kgw.com/environment/stories/kgw_101305_env_biscuit_salvage.1258b93d8.html). And that’s just the beginning; there has also been problems with sale layout, riparian impacts etc.

Granted, more environmental review may not have prevented any of this. But certainly less review isn’t the answer? Do we really think that running into woods while the trees are still smoking will result in proper stewardship?

Jonathan Thompson | Nov 20, 2005 6:56:03 PM

Posted by: Jesse Abrams

Ten o'clock on the night before Thanksgiving - must be time to curl up with HR4200...

My first reaction to the Walden-Baird bill is mostly negative. I question some of the bill's assumptions and am concerned about incentives that it creates.

Assumptions: Reading the bill, I was reminded of a JoF article by Tom Kolb, Mike Wagner, and Wally Covington put out in 1994 called "Conceptions of Forest Health: Utilitarian and Ecosystem Perspectives." HR4200 is almost entirely a utilitarian-based view of forest recovery. There is no mention of historic range of variability, natural fire regimes, or other ecological concepts that would be vital to consider in this kind of legislation. The bill makes an implicit assumption that the size of a disturbance, rather than its nature (i.e., whether it can be considered to be the kind of disturbance indigenous to the ecosystem) determines whether action should be compelled in response. Another implicit assumption is that post-fire timber harvest (and I realize other disturbances are included too, but I'm focusing on fire for the time being) is economically beneficial. In most cases, it isn't and when it is it generally indicates that larger trees are being removed. These larger standing and down trees are the crucial "legacy structures" whose ecological importance has been identified by Jerry Franklin, among many others. This bill was clearly influenced by the Biscuit (OR) salvage experience, which produced far less timber than Gordon Smith, Greg Walden, and others had hoped. The biscuit is a perfect example of both the wrong kind of post-fire harvest (i.e. lots of big trees) and an overall money-losing venture.

Incentives: At the tail end of the bill, it is revealed that any money obligated to USDA or DOI at the end of the fiscal year can be used to implement these catastrophic recovery projects. Combine this with end-runs around NEPA (as in pre-authorized projects) or limitations on NEPA (as in the HFRA-like expedited process) and you have "low-hanging fruit" easily picked by any manager looking for easy money and and easy project.

To echo my esteemed colleague, Mr. Thompson, I'm not opposed to post-fire management per se. But we're dealing with potentially very sensitive landscapes and caution, not expediency, should be the guiding principle.

Jesse Abrams | Nov 23, 2005 9:56:24 PM

Posted by: Jesse Abrams

Just an FYI: testimony on HR4200 from the November 10 subcommittee hearings is available online at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/archives/109/ffh/111005.htm . Panelists include Hal Salwasser, Jerry Franklin, and Dale Bosworth, among others.

Jesse Abrams | Nov 29, 2005 9:45:51 AM

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