Update: Rep. McClintock Pushing For Timber Salvage Sales In Yosemite National Park, Surrounding Area

Editor's note: This updates the story with comment from the National Parks Conservation Association.

A California congressman is pushing legislation that would turn aside federal environmental laws to allow for the salvage of timber burned by the Rim Fire in Yosemite National Park and the adjacent Stanislaus National Forest.

Under H.R. 3188, the Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act, timber salvage sales "shall proceed immediately and to completion" without having to comply with regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Management Act or respecting official wilderness in Yosemite.

Tom Partin, president of the American Forest Resource Council, told the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation Thursday morning that delaying salvage would greatly devalue the worth of the damaged timber -- "We would lose over half of the value," he testified -- and lead to on-the-ground problems with erosion and fuel loads that could lead to wildfires down the road.

In response to a question from Rep. Raul Grijalva, Mr. Partin said areas in Yosemite could benefit from salvage sales and the landscape made safer for visitors.

National Parks Conservation Association representatives, while appreciating "the bill's intent to respond to an emergency," they disagreed with the approach and questioned whether "salvage logging in Yosemite National Park is needed."


HR 3188 forces the National Park Service (NPS) to plan and sell timber on these lands – waiving all national park and environmental laws, environmental review and public engagement processes. These are the very laws that direct NPS to preserve natural resources – the laws and subsequent policies that would help NPS determine if a salvage logging operation is needed. Scientists, affected communities, and citizens would not be provided an opportunity to review and comment on a plan to conduct a timber operation.

After significant ecological events on public land, such as the Rim Fire, it is critical that policymakers consult with public land management agencies, which have a duty to manage the lands for its intended purpose. Yet the timber activities proposed in HR 3188 have not been requested by the National Park Service. We fear that allowing logging operations in Yosemite, especially after a major ecological event and without any environmental review, can have severe negative consequences on park resources.


In opposing the legislation, The Wilderness Society said the measure "seeks to use the Yosemite Rim Fire to justify large-scale, environmentally-destructive salvage logging without any legal boundaries, judicial oversight, or public input in some of the wildest places in northern California."

"H.R. 3188 attempts to override all existing laws and to prohibit administrative and judicial review for purposes of salvage logging operations in the Rim Fire area. This would eliminate all accountability to the public, the courts, or an entire slate of laws designed to ensure responsible management of public lands," Alan Rowsome, the Society's senior director for Government Affairs for Lands, wrote in prepared comments.

While Rep. Tom McClintock, the bill's primary sponsor, said the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service would be able to oversee the salvage sales with "their best judgment," The Wilderness Society objections noted that the bill's wording "attempts to override all protections from longstanding forest management and environmental laws (such as the National Forest Management Act, Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act), as well as foreclosing all public input under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

"Sec. 1(b)(2) goes even further by attempting to eliminate all administrative or judicial review, removing the last checks and balances responsible for ensuring the legality of logging projects."

Rep. Grijalva picked up on that, noting the legislation as written said the Park Service and U.S. Bureau of Land Management "shall promptly plan and implement salvage timber sales of dead, damaged, or downed timber resulting from that wildfire. (emphasis added.)"

That wording, the Arizona Democrat said, didn't give the agencies the option to deny salvage sales but rather directed them to approve them.

NPCA officials, meanwhile, also questioned why "salvage logging (is) the only activity listed to restore Yosemite National Park in reaction to the Rim Fire?"

Too, they noted that salvage logging in the Tuolumne River watershed, which is the source for San Francisco's water, could negatively impact that watershed and lead to water quality problems.

"How would waiving laws ensure that drinking water for millions of California residents would be protected from potential impacts? How would waiving laws such as NEPA allow the public to understand the potential risk to their drinking water quality as a result of salvage logging impacts?" the group wrote in its comments. "How would waiving NEPA and other administrative processes allow municipalities to provide input on actions that could impact their drinking water?"

Comments

That does not sound completely unreasonable. Winter is around the corner. Pushing for a full blown review will kill the whole project. Apparently, we can't get anything done without going through never ending red tape anymore.

Zebulon,

The "red tape" you talk about is to protect our public parks and forests from greedy developers. This is yet another boondoggle project for the benefit of the timber industry. The claim that "salvage" logging is good for the forest and prevents future fires is totally bogus and unsupported by science. I can also guarantee that this would be a below-cost timber sale, with the taxpayers footing the bill. Rep. McClintock has no problem shutting down the government to reduce spending, but he apparently does not mind subsidizing the timber industry with taxpayer dollars.

The reason this bill would gut the normal review process is that this destructive, pork barrel project would never pass even the most basic environmental assessment process. It would trash wildlife habitat, pollute streams, and degrade public recreation for decades to come. If there were a public comment period, this thing would be overwhelmingly opposed. Good for Rep. Grijalva and conservation organizations for challenging this outrageous bill.


The claim that "salvage" logging is good for the forest and prevents future fires is totally bogus and unsupported by science.


I wish you could convince the Forest Service here in Colorado of that fact. They are wasting millions cutting and clearing beetle kill using the exact same bogus claims. I once asked the head of the White River Forest if they were doing it because they had science to substantiate the action or was he doing because it made people feel good. He admitted it was the later.

Standing back and taking a larger view, we should ask why several bills have been introduced in the current Congress which would eliminate NEPA review and legal appeals of a range of land management actions by NPS, USFS and BLM?

It is because NEPA process and lawsuits have often been abused for obstructionist purposes. This has political consequences.

Those of us who do not like these consequences should not only passively decline to support, but should more actively oppose those more extreme groups that abuse the process.

For leadership in this, we look to the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy, which have led the formation of consensus alliances having more constructive, collaborative relationships with agencies... but remain reticent to explicitly oppose some of the more extremist groups.

Michael,

I'm not following your argument. How would the taxpayer foot the bill for a timber salvage operation? I'm no timber expert but I understand that logging can be done in a environmentally sensitive fashion if one wants to. They can do heli logging after all.

The main argument, if I get the gist of McClintock reasoning is that we need to get the timber quickly before it loses its value. I don't see the harm in getting the timber out rather than letting it rot on the ground. That seems like good recycling. May as well get timber from Yosemite than going out and importing it from Canada.

As for your apparent dislike for the timber industry, that seems a bit weird to me. Until we stop using lumber for all our housing needs, we will need the timber industry.

The USFS Final Record of Decision reduces the number of acres originally proposed for "salvage timber" because there is not enough mill capacity here to process that much timber, let alone the amount proposed by McClintock. The only action that would have increased the amount of timber that could be logged would have been a bill that allowed shipment of USFS timber out of the country. Sierra Pacific shipped a lot of their Rim Fire timber to Asia. But that wouldn't have gone over well with McClintock's voters.

Zeb--It's hard to believe that you support salvage timber cutting in one of our country's most iconoic places. Is nowhere safe anymore?

Rick

Whatever happened to the idea of letting nature take over in national parks?