Chopping Dead Wood

By Beacon Staff

With fire season under way, I’ve been thinking about federal forest management.

The Flathead National Forest (FNF) has restarted its multiple-aborted forest planning process, with a series of field trips for the interested public. The next trip is Aug. 29 to Spotted Bear, just the beginning of a process that is expected to take five to seven years.

I’ll go, but anyone with a lick of sense knows even the most magnificent FNF plan won’t mean tiddlywinks unless it is legally implementable, which can’t happen unless our Congresscritters pull their thumbs out and rationalize the sociopathic legal framework under which public lands managers must labor.

But one particularly disastrous plan might finally force the issue – former President Bill Clinton’s infamous Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) of 1994. For the sake of northern spotted owls, tens of thousands of decent-paying jobs in small-town rural Oregon and Washington disappeared, yet to be replaced with similar work.

Nothing replaced the lost revenue share to local governments from timber harvest, which supported education, infrastructure and law enforcement costs normally paid through property taxes. Local governments facing disaster howled, and Congress basically bought them off with temporary welfare payments and empty promises of a new economy.

Well, the bribe money dried up, drying up critical local-government services.

Then there’s the bitter reality of hundreds of thousands of acres of “protected,” “old-growth” habitat torched to a crisp. Adding insult to injury, spotted owls have continued to decline by between 2 and 5 percent per year.

Now the scientific “consensus” blames BARRED owls as the culprit. For whatever reason, barred owls have come west to not only compete with spotted owls for prey, but kill spotted owls, or sometimes interbreed with spotteds. Dotted owls? Dashed owls? So, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed July 24 to “test the feasibility and efficiency of barred owl removal as a management tool” for protecting spotted owls. Blasted owls – oh, that’ll work.

Such long-term insanity has driven recent Congressional consideration of the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (HR-1526). This bill, expected to go to the House floor after Congress’s August recess, would mandate parts of National Forests be designated Forest Reserve Revenue Areas (FRRA).

Lands growing enough wood to be suitable for timber harvest, possibly 720,000 acres on the Flathead, would have to be harvested long-term at a level no less than 50 percent of sustained yield.

Much of the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act procedural rigmarole would be bypassed – “notwithstanding any other provision of law, including executive orders and regulations” – on these lands.

Instead of colossal Environmental Impact Statements with sebenty-eleben alternatives, projects would be accompanied by single-alternative Environmental Assessments that “shall not exceed 100 pages in length.”

Further, it would assign the secretary of agriculture a “fiduciary duty to beneficiary counties to manage” FRRA forests.

Even better would be automatic categorical exclusions for projects under 10,000 acres in a community wildfire protection area, and/or in response to a catastrophic event (i.e. fire, bugs, windthrow) that has caused substantial damage.

Nicest of all, court plaintiffs would have to post bond within 90 days of filing suit to cover the government’s litigation and court expenses if the government wins.

Environmentalists are enraged, of course.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the 21 co-sponsors, including Congressman Steve Daines of Montana, are mostly Westerners, all Republicans, nearly all from rural districts where resource production is vital to their local economies.

More telling, however, is the support of certain Oregon politicians such as Peter DeFazio. A 13-term Democrat, after enjoying an “unbreakable hold” on voters up to 82 percent, DeFazio has seen his victory margins slipping to the upper 50s the past two elections as the consequences of the NWFP have come home to roost with his constituents.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Even if HR-1526 passes the House, it is dead in the Senate. Both Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester seem utterly in thrall to environmental groups. Would a vote remove all doubt either way? Of course, which is why the current Senate will never allow discussion, much less a vote.

The next? Maybe – dang, I sure hope so.

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