Forest protection on the honor system

  • Homeland security cartoon

    David Catrow
 

After nearly a year of contentious debate about how best to reduce wildfire danger, the House and Senate passed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act on Nov. 20 (HCN, 5/26/03: Congress jousts over forest health). Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who worked to craft the bill, is hailing it as a compromise and a bipartisan success, but environmentalists say the bill is a mixed bag.

The final bill allows Congress to spend $760 million annually on forest-thinning projects. But Congress won’t have a chance to set aside funds until next year’s Interior Appropriations bill, and there’s no guarantee that it will come up with the full amount authorized. Even if it does, that money won’t be available until 2005.

In the meantime, according to Amy Mall of the Natural Resources Defense Council, thinning projects will rely on existing funds — which are already stretched thin — along with money from the sale of larger, more valuable trees. While the bill affords some protection to old-growth trees, critics say there are significant loopholes that, coupled with a shortage of funds in the interim, could allow the Forest Service to expand timber programs.

But Democrats won a small victory for at-risk communities, as the bill requires that at least 50 percent of funds be devoted to the wildland-urban interface. Earlier Republican-sponsored versions, which didn’t specify where thinning would take place, left the interface vulnerable to fire, and the backcountry open to increased logging. But the concession came at a price: The wildland-urban interface is now defined as extending a mile-and-a-half, rather than a half-mile, from a community’s boundary. The bill also strongly discourages citizen involvement. It denies citizens the right to file "administrative appeals" rather than lawsuits on final decisions, and lays out a greatly accelerated time frame for resolving legal challenges to thinning projects. Critics are concerned that Congress is handing judges a legislative mandate to move contested projects forward.

"It is a less than perfect bill that leaves the Forest Service a huge responsibility to do the honorable thing," says Jay Watson, director of the Wildland Fire Program for The Wilderness Society. "It’s going to take vigilance as it’s implemented."

The author is an HCN intern.

Note: this article appears with these three additional news articles in a spread about Congressional politics:

- As Congress adjourns, the environment is left in limbo

- Utahns beat back radioactive waste

- New nuke studies are in the works

High Country News Classifieds
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!