Reforming Forest Management

By Beacon Staff

A pro-logging bill making its way through Congress would dramatically revise forest management throughout the country, ramping up timber production four-fold on the Flathead National Forest, while dramatically increasing harvests on all of the state’s national forests and restricting litigation designed to halt those projects for environmental scrutiny.

The “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act,” or H.R. 1526, was co-authored by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and passed the House of Representatives Sept. 20 on a 244-173 vote.

The bill mandates annual harvests of one-half the U.S. Forest Service’s long-term sustainable yield for each national forest, matching the statewide harvest rates that were commonplace two decades ago.

The “minimum mandate” means the Flathead National Forest would be expected to produce 74.5 million board feet, up from 18 million; the Lolo National Forest would expand from 7 million board feet to 89 million; the Kootenai National Forest would increase from 24 million to 145 million; and the Bitterroot National Forest would expand from 400,000 to 12 million board feet.

“We’ve seen firsthand the devastating consequences of the mismanagement of our federal forests – from this year’s fire season to the rampant pine beetle kill. My bill has bipartisan support and will create thousands of long-term jobs across Montana,” according to a statement from Daines. “It will usher in a new era of robust, responsible forest management that benefits all Montanans who rely on and enjoy our National Forests. I strongly urge the Senate to quickly move forward on this important legislation.”

Daines also successfully included two amendments in the final version of the bill. The first amendment would preclude injunctions on timber sales that are based solely on alleged procedural violations such as paperwork errors, which Daines says are the product of “frivolous litigation.”

The amendment would also allow contested projects to move forward while litigation on the merits of the case is pending.

Daines and U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., introduced the bill in April, contending that it creates thousands of long-term jobs while addressing beetle kill, reducing the threat of wildfires.

Critics pushed back against the bill immediately, however, saying it would negate a decade of collaborative work that struck a balance in forest management, while exempting some logging sales from environmental review and gutting the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act, which was enacted to compensate for years of excessive harvesting.

Dale Bosworth, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service, said in a statement that the bill “takes us backwards in time by ignoring a decade-long paradigm shift to find balanced common ground on our national forests.”

He also said the Forest Service would be challenged to produce the volume of timber sales needed to meet the bill’s mandate.

“Our leaders should be aiming for sustainable timber harvest as well as collaborative efforts to improve overall health, not one-size-fits-all measures that are meant to pit people against each other,” Bosworth said. “This failed approach was rightfully abandoned over a decade ago because it caused dramatic funding shortfalls for schools.”

Matthew Koehler, executive director of the WildWest Institute, an environmental organization in Missoula, said the bill undermines the country’s public lands legacy by mandating increases in industrial logging while restricting oversight.

“Rep. Daines wants to forever change the way America’s National Forests are managed by simply having politicians mandate dramatic increases in National Forest logging levels all across America’s 155 national forests, at a time when U.S. lumber consumption is down nearly 50 percent,” he said.

Koehler said the bill does a disservice to the country’s public lands by exempting logging sales up to 15.6 square miles in size from public inputs and by diluting environmental analysis and gutting the Endangered Species Act.

Chuck Roady, vice president and general manager of F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls, said he was encouraged that the bill would lead to timber management reform that would help maintain healthy forests, support local jobs and provide steady revenue to counties and schools.

“As the vice president of the oldest family-owned lumber company in Montana, I know firsthand and witness every day the consequences of the lack of management of the federal forests in our state,” Roady said in a statement. “This legislation could be a game-changer for increasing forest jobs while revitalizing our timber counties and communities in Montana, and I certainly hope it becomes law.”

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