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On December 18, 2015, Congress passed its $1.8 trillion omnibus spending bill that included several riders that cater to the different political interests we can expect to hear about in the coming election year. At the last minute, a proposed rider that would have ostensibly addressed the Forest Service's problem of blank-check fire-fighting was removed from the spending bill. The bill included controversial provisions requiring even more logging with even less oversight on public lands.
We shared some respite that this legislation didn’t sneak through as a tag-along on the spending bill. The relief is temporary though; key provisions are certain to re-emerge as stand-alone legislation when the Congress reconvenes in January.
Here’s more context: There has been strong bipartisan support in Congress to fix the chaotic way the federal government funds fire-suppression. It’s clear that the government needs to find a more sustainable solution to ballooning fire-suppression costs, which often exceed even the very large amount appropriated for this purpose.
However, earlier this year, the US House of Representatives passed a bad forestry bill, HR 2647, ironically called the “Resilient Federal Forest Act.” Unsurprisingly, the bill has nothing to do with making forests more resilient. In contrast, it would encourage more logging with less public involvement or input, under the guise of “improving forest health.”
In the build-up to the Omnibus Bill, many of the worst pieces of HR 2647 emerged as part of the “fire funding fix” rider # 9. Increased industrial logging on our public lands is not the way to make our forests more resilient to fire or climate change.
While the Forest Service’s blank check approach to fire suppression is a problem that needs attention and creative solutions; none should include a mandate for increased, expedited logging on public lands.
Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden will play a major role in the next phase of this legislation. Bark will continue to demand that Senator Wyden take a better approach to fixing the fire-suppression funding chaos than continuing to increase logging on public lands.