Rep. Huffman Votes Against H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017
Washington, D.C.- Yesterday, Rep. Huffman (D-CA) voted against H.R. 2936, The Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017, introduced by Rep. Westerman (R-AR), which was approved by the House Committee on Natural Resources on a near party-line vote.
“The Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2017, branded as an attempt to better arm forests for wildfire threats and as a way to improve timber production on public forest lands, is an unfortunate demonstration that this Congress is less interested in problem-solving and more interested in stripping basic environmental protections and standards,” said Rep. Huffman. “I would welcome a debate about improving federal forest management and boosting balanced stewardship. Sadly, this bill lacks that balance. The legislation would remove much-needed accountability by limiting the public’s ability to review federal agency actions, allowing the Forest Service to unilaterally waive the need for environmental review, while also potentially allowing up to 10,000-acre clearcuts without any public review. While we do need to make changes in the way National Forests are managed, and I am pleased to see congressional focus on anticipating, planning for, and responding to wildfires, this bill is too blunt an instrument and does not reflect the collaborative forest management strategies that we need on the North Coast.”
The forest bill includes positive aspects, such as recognizing wildfires on federal lands as major disasters, thereby making communities affected by catastrophic fire eligible for federal emergency assistance. It also includes streamlining provisions that could help speed consultation and court consideration to advance collaborative community-based forest planning and salvage operations after wildfires. This streamlining is an appropriate approach in some circumstances, especially on the North Coast of California, but could be exploited elsewhere if not carefully monitored.
Unfortunately, H.R. 2936 also provides the Forest Service with significantly expanded exemptions from public review laws, would waive endangered species consultation requirements if the Forest Service asserts they are not necessary, would prevent citizens from recovering attorney’s fees even when they prevail over the federal government in court, and would give Regional Foresters the power to waive stream protection guidelines. The bill would also expand current exemptions in the National Environmental Policy Act to potentially allow up to 10,000-acre clearcutting projects without public consideration. Finally, H.R. 2936 also introduces a backdoor way to undermine National Monuments designated by President Obama.
Yesterday’s vote was the last step in the committee review process before the full House of Representatives begins review of the bill.