A coalition of ecologists, wildlife biologists, and other members of the scientific community is speaking out against two pieces of legislation ― HR 3188 and HR 1526 ― currently awaiting approval from the House and Senate, respectively. Both measures would essentially increase logging operations across the western United States, including parts of Yosemite National Park and other wilderness areas that have been damaged by recent wildlife activity.
“We urge you to consider what the science is telling us: that post-fire habitat created by fire, including patches of severe fire, are ecological treasures rather than ecological catastrophes, and that post-fire logging does far more harm than good to the nation’s public lands,” the group stated in a letter mailed to Congress earlier this month.
In April, Rep. Doc Hastings [R-Wash.] ― who serves as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee ― authored House Resolution 1526, dubbed the ‘Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act’. The legislation would effectively require logging operations on forestland throughout the western states, expedite timber sales, and shield logging operations from legal challenges. Five months later, the House approved the legislation 244-173; the Senate will vote on the measure as soon as they have received a green-light from the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
After HR 1526 cleared the House, Rep. Tom McClintock [R-Calif.] authored an amendment to Hastings’ bill that directly addressed Yosemite National Park and its surrounding forests; one week later, McClintock built on this amendment by introducing House Resolution 3188, or the ‘Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act’. Last summer, the Rim Fire ― considered one of the largest forest fires in California’s history ― charred 400 square miles of both wilderness and residential land, and ultimately cost $127 million to fight. According to Hastings, U.S. wildfires burned roughly 9.3 million acres last year; meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service was only able to log about 200,000 acres of timber.
“We have no time to waste in the aftermath of the Yosemite Rim Fire,” McClintock stated during a subcommittee hearing last month. “By the time the formal environmental review of salvage operations has been completed in a year, what was once forestland will have already begun converting to brush land, and by the following year, reforestation will become infinitely more difficult and expensive.”
The scientific community has firmly rejected the logic behind both of these bills. Wrote the letter’s author, Dominick DellaSala: “Just about the worst thing you can do to these forests after a fire is salvage: log them. It’s worse than the fire itself because it sets back the recovery that begins the minute the fire is out.”
Other members of the coalition, many of whom have conducted fish and wildlife surveys in areas where logging operations are present, pointed to the ecological importance of burned forestland. “Though it may seem at first glance that a post-fire landscape is a catastrophe ecologically,” the letter stated, “numerous scientific studies tell us that even in patches where forest fires burned most intensely, the resulting post-fire community is one of the most ecologically important and biodiverse habitat types in western conifer forests. Moreover, it is the least protected of all forest types and is often as rare, or rarer, than old-growth forest due to damaging forest practices encouraged by post-fire logging policies.”
So far, the coalition can count President Obama as an ally. The White House has threatened to veto HR 1526 on the grounds that the bill presents ecological risks and will hinder the government from designating protected status to wilderness lands. The president’s support will be a valuable asset if the new laws are approved — but let’s hope that opposition from “hundreds of scientists” will at least prompt members of the House and Senate to carefully consider both of these resolutions, if not strike them dead on the floor.