Some people around here are so bitter about the demise of the timber industry, the spotted owl wouldn’t be an endangered species in their precincts–it would be an extinct species.
But Rep. Tom McClintock has proposed legislation that should bring a smile to their faces, save the taxpayers a few dollars, and may even be acceptable to the environmentalists who created the state of affairs we have today.
The legislation concerns trees that are torched in forest fires but still have salvage value. For example, the recent Rim Fire that destroyed 400 square miles of forest in the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite left an estimated one billion square feet of salvageable dead trees–enough to built 63,000 houses.
The U.S. Forest Service auctions off salvage rights to such trees–but only after going through an arduous environmental review process that can last over a year. Damaged trees must be removed within two years before they succumb to rot and insect damage, and become commercially worthless.
To maximize the harvest of these trees, McClintock has introduced a bill (HR 3138) that would waive environmental regulations so that salvage logging can begin quickly. McClintock said the legislation applies only “to lands where the environment has already been incinerated, and allows the government to be paid for the removal of already dead timber, rather than having the government pay someone else.”
As you would expect, people in communities where logging used to fuel the local economy are excited about the prospect of loggers getting much-needed work. As you would also expect, most environmentalists aren’t doing handsprings over this proposal.
Rep. Pete DeFazio (D., Oregon) said the waiver “would be a license to clear-cut the entire burn zone,” and said he supports more limited salvage logging.
Chad Hanson, research ecologist of the anti-logging John Muir Project, said it is almost always better to leave all dead trees in the forest because the trees provide critical habitat for insects such as beetles, which become food for woodpeckers.
But others have a different take. “You need to remove some of those trees so new ones can grow,” said Patrick Koepele, deputy executive director of the Tuolumne River Trust.
The House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulations held a hearing on the bill Oct. 3 and it now awaits action by the Committee on Natural Resources.
Given the chaos in Washington, it’s anybody guess how the bill will fair. But if the government’s going to salvage this wood, McClintock’s bill should be given serious consideration.