A bill that would establish quotas for timber harvests on national forests and set up a pilot program so states and counties can manage federal land passed the House Friday, 244-173.
The Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, also includes Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador’s Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act, which would create pilot projects to turn over about 1 percent of Idaho’s 20 million acres of national forests to the state and counties to manage as a trust.
Both of Idaho’s Congressmen supported the measure.
“I’m glad that Congress is beginning to recognize the problems we’ve long seen by taking up this bill,” said Simpson. “One of the key things it does is facilitate better partnership between state and federal land managers, which I believe will go a long way in improving the health of our forests and reducing the risk of catastrophic forest fires.”
House Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, a Washington Republican, authored the bill that requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable yield of timber each year off of its 193 million acres of land and would require it give 25 percent of receipts to the counties where the timber is cut. The bill also would exempt timber sales from the National Environmental Policy Act and shield them from lawsuits under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would reduce the federal budget by $269 million annually. But documents its staff used to make that estimate showed it would take harvest of 220 million board feet of timber from the Clearwater National Forest, which currently allows 22 million board feet.
The Panhandle Forest would be mandated to cut 272 million bf, the Nez Perce 105 million bf. None of the southern Idaho forests would exceed 30 million.
Environmental groups label it the “logging without laws” bill and say it would force the agency to go back to widespread clearcutting and cause environmental damage. It also would mandate timber harvests in roadless areas, river corridors and recreation areas where harvest only is allowed for restoration and fuel reduction.
“The ‘Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act’ is anything but healthy,” said Jamie Williams, president of he Wilderness Society. “H.R. 1526 could clear-cut America’s national forests, from North Carolina to Washington state, without regard to local input or environmental consequences. and reducing the risk of catastrophic forest fires.”
The bill now goes to the Senate where Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has a separate bill aimed at addressing Oregon public land timber. He ha not commented on this bill.
“We appreciate the efforts of the U.S. House and look forward to seeing Senator Wyden’s proposal for meeting the needs of rural communities and federal forests in Oregon and throughout our nation,” said Tom Partin, President of the American Forest Resource Council.
The bill would establish a pilot program so states could set up trusts for managing up to 200,000 acres of federal land with the proceeds going to the federal government after the management costs and money for 35 counties that currently get $28.5 million annually for schools, roads and other projects under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act. This makes up for the loss of 25 percent of timber receipts, when the timber harvests dropped in the 1980s.
“By reestablishing local control over some of our state’s most valuable resources, our bill will bolster the economy in areas that have struggled with high unemployment and create the tax revenues they need to improve schools, roads, and other local services,” Labrador said.