Christy Sherr: Forest ‘thinning’ is not the answer | TheUnion.com

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Christy Sherr: Forest ‘thinning’ is not the answer

Two Republican bills being considered by Congress are using the public's fear and misunderstanding of wildland fire to mount one of the most extreme attacks on our national forests in history.

Both bills would suspend or weaken federal environmental laws and clear the way for the timber industry to dramatically increase commercial logging under the guise of "forest treatment" or "thinning."

Though the term "thinning" may sound relatively benign, the majority of thinning operations on national forests are intensive commercial logging projects that frequently remove two-thirds of the trees, including mature and old-growth trees.

If land managers intend to thin forests to reduce high-intensity fire occurrence, the best available science shows that they must thin and burn each stand every 8 to 10 years for hundreds of years to even have a 50 percent chance of preventing high-intensity fire, causing massive landscape-level watershed and habitat damage.

An unprecedented assault on forests, Taxpayers 1691 was introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) and seeks to "establish a reliable and predictable timber supply from the National Forest System that can be harvested, processed, and sold as wood products," allowing for the clear-cutting of up to 5,000 acres of national forests with little environmental review on the impacts these operations would have on water, wildlife and recreation.

Sen. Barrasso chairs the Senate Public Lands, Forests and Mining Subcommittee.

Last month, Mike Matz, the director of U.S. Public Lands at the Pew Charitable Trusts, offered testimony on the bill before the subcommittee, saying that Pew is unable to support the bill in its current form, because the legislation "would undermine key provisions of the National Forest Management Act of 1976 (NMFA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) … (and) inappropriately limit citizen access to the federal courts.

In concluding his testimony, Matz called on Sen. Barrasso to "craft a forestry bill that more adequately balances the needs of national forests and the communities and wildlife that depend upon them."

HR 2647 — a pro-industry bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman of (R-AR-4) — seeks to streamline management of commercial logging projects by limiting public debate, and excluding the American public from their legal right to review forest management actions.

HR 2647 was cosponsored by 13 representatives, all Republicans but one — Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ-1) — was called out by the League of Conservation Voters for over a dozen anti-environment votes since 2009.

HR 2647 would:

— create new categorical exclusions from review under the National Environmental Policy Act.

— create attorneys' fee recovery provisions and binding requirements that would effectively deny access to the courts.

— lower the membership of resource advisory committees cooperating with Forest Service managers, from 15 to 6, significantly reducing the diversity of stakeholders.

Outdoor Alliance, a nonprofit coalition that represents the recreational interests of millions of Americans, said that these bills "elevate a single interest — timber — over the diverse activities that take place on national forests."

Eliminating environmental review and oversight by citizens and the courts, and tripling logging levels in our national forests under the misleading guise of "thinning" will devastate imperiled species, drastically reduce opportunities for high-quality recreation, and could contribute significantly to regional and global climate change while a handful of towns and mills in the West enjoy a few taxpayer-subsidized boom years.

Urge Sen. Feinstein to vote "no," with no compromise, on both of these destructive bills.

Christy Sherr is a retired park ranger currently working as an outdoor educator, field biologist, and education coordinator for the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute. She lives in Nevada City.