I simply have to shake my head at the blatantly false accusations and statements made in the press lately by a few fringe environmentalists concerning Governor Bullock’s priority landscape recommendations to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The accusations are so false and so out-of-line that they must be corrected.
Forestry provisions in the Farm Bill are the direct result of several national concerns, fire budgets, fire risk to public safety and infrastructure, lack of management on federal lands, litigation and jobs.
The Forestry Title of the 2014 Farm Bill sets into law new opportunities for governors and the U.S. Forest Service to work together on management of federal and non-federal lands within state boundaries.
The section receiving the most adverse attention is Section 8204, entitled “Insect and Disease Infestation”, which gave governors the authority to recommend priority treatment areas to the Secretary of Agriculture by April 9. Based on annual forest surveys, these areas are experiencing declining forest health, are at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality over the next 15 years or in an area in which the risk of hazard trees poses an imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety.
Governor Bullock was one of 36 governors that chose to engage in the opportunity presented by congress. Based on the criteria specified in the Farm Bill, the governor recommended a priority designation on just under 5 million acres, of the 12.5 million acres identified in Forest Plans as suitable for timber harvest or production.
The Farm Bill is very specific regarding resource condition as the qualification, but completely void of specifying process. Idaho’s Governor Otter turned to established collaboratives to identify areas. Other governors used different processes. In the spirit of collaboration, Governor Bullock chose to gather an ad hoc working group of diverse interests. The Forest Service and state agencies pulled together layers of scientific data and maps. The Forest Service presented draft areas to Forest Supervisors, county elected officials, representatives of collaboratives, environmental groups and timber industry representatives for feedback.
All future projects, within the priority areas, are considered authorized hazardous fuel reduction projects and will be carried out in accordance with certain authorities in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.
An additional provision not in HFRA is the ability to use up to a 3,000-acre categorical exclusion as long as the acres identified for treatment are recommended by a collaborative group or by a collaborative process. Categorical Exclusion applies to actions that “do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment.” In addition, the use of a CE must not trigger “extraordinary circumstances” such as the potential to adversely impact threatened or endangered species, archaeological remains, historical sites, or other protected resources.
That’s it. That’s what the entire ruckus is about. So, the few that are crying foul have either not read the bill or are deliberately trying to sabotage a bill produced by a congressional conference committee and the outcomes it will produce.
Don’t be fooled by false and inflammatory statements; like a “secret logging deal”, or “Categorical Exclusions will treat an unlimited number of projects up to 3,000 acres or almost five square miles in size”, or that a CE could be used where this is “a likely to effect threatened or endangered species”, or that to “Treat” acres could mean a “full-on clearcut.” Farm Bill criteria and individual Forest Plans dictate pace and scale.
Collaborative conservation emphasizes the importance of local participation, sustainable natural and human communities and voluntary consent and compliance rather that enforcement by legal and regulatory coercion.
Over the past few years, mainstream environmental groups and the timber industry have invited the few fringe organizations to enter into a collaborative discussion or process on numerous occasions. However, they decline in favor of the failed status quo of attacking projects through pre-objection and litigation.
It is rather disingenuous for these people to cry foul now because they were not consulted. They sealed their own fate long ago by choosing the path of obstruction rather than construction.
On behalf of the Montana Wood Products Association, I am Julia Altemus, thanks for listening.