Edwin Chen, NRDC, 202-289-2373
Walden Proposal Is More Dangerous Than Any Wildfire
WASHINGTON (May 16, 2006) -- The U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled on Wednesday to vote on a logging bill that could inflict more disastrous consequences upon our forests than any wildfire.
The deceptively named "Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act" (H.R. 4200) is a recipe for land mismanagement that could greatly increase the risk of dangerous fires -- including near residential neighborhoods -- by allowing the logging industry to dispense with or skirt an array of time-tested safeguards that promote healthy forests, such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The proposal would permit the logging of trees without regard to NEPA, which requires that advance notice and information be available to the public, independent scientists, and other agencies, describing the potentially damaging impacts of federal government projects. Under the bill, even the ESA could be avoided.
And by allowing loggers to leave behind flammable debris, the proposal by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) could actually increase the risk of more fires -- while offering no protections for watersheds, critical wildlife habitat, old-growth forests or roadless areas.
With the approach of another wildfire season, the House should pour a huge dose of water on H.R. 4200 before it damages millions of acres of public forests for generations and threatens homes near such areas.
The bill seeks to expedite indiscriminate logging after forest fires and other weather-related events, including near residential communities. Worse, it would pave the way for such destructive logging by defining rain, snow and ice storms as "natural disasters" while disregarding important protections for clean drinking water, wild, roadless forests and wildlife.
The Walden bill is not needed. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management already are empowered to address natural disturbances.
H.R. 4200 should be defeated on these additional demerits:
- It lacks the most basic protections: The measure imposes no protections for streams or riparian areas, critical wildlife habitat, old growth forests, roadless areas, fragile soils or other essential natural resources.
- It waives established conservation law: The proposal specifically allows projects that affect threatened and endangered species to proceed prior to inter-agency consultation about how to protect the species. And it does so with complete disregard for any harm done to listed species, such as erosion into streams where salmon spawn.
- It allows independent science to be ignored: Although H.R. 4200 requires scientific peer review of "pre-approved management practices," it does not require that projects actually incorporate the results of such review. By exempting projects from NEPA safeguards, the views of some of the nation's most prominent forest ecologists, who have called Walden's bill "misguided," would be effectively discarded.
The Walden bill creates incentives to shift the Forest Service away from community protection and forest restoration by enabling destructive logging projects to go forward that could serious damage ecosystems and delay forest recovery from natural disturbances.
This potential man-made disaster must be stopped. Instead of diverting valuable resources to rush through more damaging logging projects, Congress should enable the Forest Service to focus its substantial energy, talents and taxpayer-funded resources on reducing wildfire risks by working in and immediately around woodland homes and communities.