Is Craig's bill Salvage Rider II?

  • Larry Craig - Robert Bower/The Pos

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One of the hottest environmental topics of the last Congress - forest management - is back, and, if early reaction is any gauge, it hasn't cooled down any.

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, R, whose Energy and Natural Resources Committee produced the controversial salvage logging rider two years ago, recently drafted a massive bill that would affect the management of all lands overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Craig says the 100-page "Public Land Management Responsibility and Accountability Restoration Act" will streamline the agencies by eliminating layers of bureaucracy. Opponents call it a stairway to heaven for logging, mining and grazing interests.

The bill would make it easier for federal officials to hold closed meetings with timber and mining companies, exempt the Forest Service and the BLM from consulting on endangered species with biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and give the agencies the right to impose $10,000 fines on people who file appeals that are deemed "frivolous."

It would also lower the number of environmental impact statements required by the National Environmental Policy Act and give states the chance to assume management of some federal lands and pocket the profits from any timber sales.

An Energy Committee spokesman says the bill is a much-needed cost-cutter that will eliminate wasteful bureaucratic overlap. "We no longer have the luxury of deciding that the best way to ensure that a job gets done is to have three people doing the work of one," he says.

Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association, lauds the bill for untangling regulations that currently slow tree sales. "The bill will make the timber program from the public lands more predictable and sustainable," he says. "Whether it will increase or decrease production, that's hard to say."

Environmentalists say the bill favors the timber industry. An analysis by The Wilderness Society notes that the bill would allow timber sales to be expanded by up to 20 percent without public notice or environmental review. The bill incorporates 23 of 28 recommendations made by the American Forest and Paper Association, says Kevin Kirchner of the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund.

"It's a much craftier sham than the salvage rider, but it's still the same old story," says John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League. "They want to eliminate public involvement and get the cut out. The whole thing needs to be scrapped."

Several Idaho papers have carried editorials critical of Craig's bill, and opponents are hoping that provisions such as turning over some federal lands to the states will be axed. Craig says the bill is only a discussion draft and he is eager for bipartisan feedback.

To obtain a free 30-page summary or the complete bill, call the Energy Committee at 202/224-6170 or download either one at www.senate.gov/~craig.

* Sarah Dry, HCN intern

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