It might save the government some money, but it won't do anything to quell the controversy over logging in the national forests. That's what the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says in its new report about Congressman Doc Hastings' plan to more than double timber harvest on public lands.
Hastings has said his bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (HR 1526), is a way to get badly needed income to the rural timber counties. However, the CBO report says the counties would actually receive less government money than they do now.
According to Noah Matson, vice president for Climate Change and Natural Resources Adaptation with the group Defenders of Wildlife, those funds would come at the expense of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat and recreation.
"They're viewing our national forests as big ATM machines that they can just level out to fill county coffers. It's not a sustainable, long-term solution; it'll probably create a lot more problems," Matson said.
The bill makes logging a requirement on some public forests, speeding up the timber sales process and making it more difficult to challenge sales. Matson predicts that clear-cutting would be likely under this proposal - although that is one practice that prompted limits on logging 20 years ago, due to its negative effects on the environment and wildlife.
"There's no way to achieve the level of cut that they're proposing; there's a reason that most of them waive, in some form, environmental laws in order to achieve their timber-cut objectives," he said. "So, as shocking as it is to the public, the end result of these proposals would be increased clear-cuts."
The CBO report estimates that the bill would mean $2 billion in additional timber sales over the next 10 years. Its supporters have said it will create timber jobs and help reduce wildfire risks. HR 1526 has been in the House Rules Committee this week, the final stop before heading to the floor for a vote.
September 19, 2013/Chris Thomas, Washington News Service
IMAGE/Environmental groups warn that HR 1526 would return Western forests to the days of clear-cutting to bring in money for counties – an approach they say is short-sighted. Photo credit: Chandra LeGue.