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FORESTS: House Resources panel OKs salvage legislation, host of bills
Dan Berman, E&E Daily senior reporter
The House Resources Committee yesterday approved legislation by a vote of 25-13 that would accelerate post-wildfire salvage logging and forest restoration projects, after defeating several Democratic amendments.
The panel started the markup of H.R. 4200 -- sponsored by Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Brian Baird (D-Wash.) -- on March 15 but was unable to finish due to conflicts with the House floor schedule. The bill now goes to the Agriculture Committee, which has yet to schedule a markup, though one is expected in the near future.
The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee also shares jurisdiction, but Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) may relinquish the panel's claim, Walden said after the markup yesterday.
Democrats took aim at what they and environmentalists claim are broad exemptions from the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act, but the GOP-led Resources panel defeated several amendments from minority lawmakers. Opponents of the bill question the need for increased salvage logging, saying it pollutes water, erodes soil and is, in essence, the opposite of forest restoration.
H.R. 4200 would accelerate the planning process for forest restoration by creating an alternative planning process under NEPA for post-catastrophic events such as wildfires, hurricanes or windstorms.
Walden said the bill does not mandate salvage logging as the primary course of action and simply gives forest managers the ability to choose the proper restoration method. "We don't tell them what to do, we just tell them to do it faster," he said.
Critics of the current Forest Service planning process for salvage projects say the time required to study and approve the plans often cause the trees to lose value to the point where the project is not cost effective. However, about 35 percent of current Forest Service timber sales are from salvage projects.
Under H.R. 4200, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would have 30 days to evaluate and make recommendations for any restoration work following catastrophic events on over 1,000 acres. Following the review period, the Forest Service or BLM would propose emergency restoration and reforestation projects. New language in the bill would give the Agriculture or Interior secretary the authority to extend evaluations beyond 30 days if necessary for unusually complex events.
If expedited restoration work is deemed necessary, a streamlined process for environmental review required under NEPA would occur. Events affecting between 250 and 1,000 acres would be evaluated at the discretion of the agencies. Current Forest Service rules already allow the use of a categorical exclusion under NEPA for projects under 250 acres.
"It basically says NEPA doesn't apply because this bill replaces it," said Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.). "If you believe this is some process-oriented thing, you're really disappointing the timber industry, which thinks it's going to increase salvage logging."
Asked about the criticism that the bill is designed solely for salvage logging, Walden said that if a forest manager and plan go that route, it should be done quickly.
"Clearly what has many people concerned is we allow burned, dead trees to rot before we decide to harvest them, then they have no value," Walden said. "If you're going to log, people would rather you do it while it still has value and replant right away."
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said the bill simply gives political officials in the Agriculture and Interior departments discretion to avoid environmental laws above the objections of career employees on the ground. "All through this bill, we're giving wiggle room to political appointees not to do things," DeFazio said. The committee rejected three DeFazio amendments that would have limited the scope of the bill.
The panel also turned down two amendments from ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) that would strike ESA-related language and language on the National Historic Preservation Act and Clean Water Act.
A failed amendment from Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) was designed to maintain current NEPA requirements as well as an amendment that would require the agencies to consider the fire risk from any salvage operations. That amendment was in response to the January report in Science by an team led by Oregon State University graduate student Daniel Donato that found salvage logging following the 2002 Biscuit Fire in Oregon destroyed 71 percent of seedlings that had regenerated naturally and increased the risk of future wildfires.
The committee also rejected an amendment from Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) that would have prevented the bill's authority from applying to inventoried roadless areas, as well as an attempt to divert 50 percent of proceeds from salvage projects to road decommissioning projects.
As part of a large unanimous consent agreement, the committee approved legislation designed to settle the controversial issue of an inholder in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park. Betty Dick, an 83-year-old widow, has lived on her 23-acre property in the park for 25 years, but the lease expired last September and the National Park Service opposed reauthorizing it on the same terms.
S. 584 from Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) would allow Dick to live on 8 acres in the park and continue to pay $300 per year for the rest of her life.
The Park Service has said it is concerned about setting a precedent that would allow inholders in the future to lobby the agency or Congress to make changes to their leases.
Fisheries, species, water bills
The committee also approved H.R. 4686, the Multi-State and International Fisheries Conservation and Management Act, which would reauthorize five laws that together oversee management of specific U.S. fisheries.
Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) introduced the bill, which is unrelated to reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Management Act, the major law that governs the nation's fisheries.
Congress last reauthorized the laws in 2002. These include the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act, the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, the Atlantic Tunas Convention Act, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Convention Act and legislation on the Dungeness Crab Fishery.
The committee also passed H.R. 518, the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Improvement Act. The bill, offered by Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), would slightly revise an existing bill that was originally authored in 2000 and expired at the end of 2005. It would provide seed money for the Fish and Wildlife Service to oversee matching grants for conservation programs on the ground. The existing migratory bird act authorizes $5 million a year for the protection of blue birds, cranes, ducks, goldfinches, fulls, hummingbirds, orioles, plovers warblers, woodpeckers and other neotropical migrants.
The proposed reauthorization bill would gradually increase the authorization level to $15 million over the next five years. It would also lower the outside contribution requirements for matching grants and widen the area that can be included for consideration for the funds (E&E Daily, March 13).
"If we want birds to come back in the spring we have to address the problems they face on both their breeding and wintering grounds," said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy, in a statement yesterday. "This legislation begins to allow us to deal with the threats to birds using a comprehensive approach."
Other bills include:
H.R. 4204, the American River Pump Station Project Transfer Act. The bill, introduced by Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), would authorize transfer of a California pump station from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Placer County Water Agency.
H.R. 122, or the Eastern Municipal Water District Recycled Water System Pressurization and Expansion Project, would amend the Reclamation Wastewater and Groundwater Facilities Act to allow BuRec to help design, plan and construct water recycling infrastructure in California. The bill was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), and authorizes $12 million for the project, with a 25 percent maximum federal share.
H.R. 2563 would authorize the Interior Department to study options to alleviate water shortages in Idaho's Snake, Boise and Payette rivers. The bill, introduced by Rep. C.L. Otter (R-Idaho), comes as Idaho is on track to record its sixth straight year of drought, the state's worst dry spell in 500 years.
H.R. 3418, the Central Texas Water Recycling Act, would permit BuRec to work with the city of Waco, Texas, on a water reuse project with the same cost share requirements as the previous bills. The legislation was introduced by Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas).
H.R. 3967, the Pactola Reservoir Reallocation Authorization Act, calls for the Bureau of Reclamation to reallocate funding for the South Dakota project to reflect a decrease in irrigation uses and an increase in industrial, municipal and habitat purposes. The bill was offered by Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.).
H.R. 4080, the Glendo Unit of Missouri River Basin Project Contract Extension Act, would extend the terms of a BuRec contract in Wyoming from December 2005 to December 2007. Rep. Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) introduced the bill.
H.R. 4013, introduced by Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), would amend the Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act of 1992 to allow for conjunctive use of surface and groundwater in Juab County, Utah.
S. 1869, which would reauthorize the "Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1990." The reauthorization, offered by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), would require the Interior Department to complete digital maps of the John Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System, which amounts to nearly 3.1 million acres of land along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Great Lakes coasts, at a cost of $1 million annually from 2006 to 2010.
H.R. 4084, introduced by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), would allow the Forest Service to use special use permit fees in connection with the establishment and operation of marinas in Forest Service areas.
H.R. 413, offered by Rep. Jim Ryun (R-Kan.), would establish the Bleeding Kansas and the Enduring Struggle for Freedom National Heritage Area. The Civil War-era site is located in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. The Territorial Kansas Heritage Alliance would be designated as manager of the area, which was the site of seven years of sporadic warfare between 1854 and 1861.
H.R. 3462, from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), would would direct the Bureau of Land Management to convey the "White Acre" and "Gambel Oak" properties to Park City, Utah. The properties are about 110 acres and potentially worth over $100 million, according to lawmakers.
H.R. 3682, the Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck bill, would rename the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia as the "Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge." Elizabeth Hartwell spearheaded the effort to preserve bald eagle habitat in the area, according to the park. The legislation was offered by Rep. Thomas Davis (R-Va.).
S. 1165, introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), is called the "James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge Expansion Act" and would expand the Hawaiian refuge by 800 acres. James Campbell NWR is home to four species of endangered birds, as well as green sea turtles and endangered monk seals.
H.R. 1307, which would designate portions of New Jersey's Musconetcong River as a component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, and for other purposes.
H.R. 374, to direct the secretary of the Interior to take certain tribally owned reservation land into trust for the Puyallup Tribe.
H.R. 2978, to allow the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to enter into a lease or other temporary conveyance of water rights recognized under the Fort Peck-Montana Compact for the purpose of meeting the water needs of the Dry Prairie Rural Water Association.
H.J. Res 78, to approve the location of the commemorative work in the District of Columbia honoring former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
FISHERIES: Gilchrest to put forward alternative Magnuson bill today
Allison A. Freeman, E&E Daily reporter
House Fisheries Subcommittee Chairman Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.) intends to counter Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo's (R-Calif.) attempt to amend U.S. fishery management law today with a bill that advances stronger environmental protections.
Introducing the bill will essentially serve as an act of protest against the measure Pombo unveiled yesterday with Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Don Young (R-Alaska). As chairman, Pombo will move his own legislation through committee.
The Pombo bill would add new scientific and conservation requirements while including some provisions that oceans advocates say would weaken several key environmental protections. Gilchrest had been negotiating with Pombo in the effort to draft a joint bill, but he pulled out of that process earlier this week. Gilchrest has said before that he might use his own measure as a substitute amendment or to help shape the debate.
Both bills would reauthorize the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which forms the basis of U.S. fishery management in waters between three and 200 miles offshore, an area known as the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Gilchrest is expected to float a more stringent plan on a number of conservation fronts. In a "Dear Colleague" letter Gilchrest sent Tuesday asking for cosponsors of the legislation, he said the bill would require fishery councils to set annual harvests at science-based levels that ensure long-term sustainability of fish stocks.
Ocean conservation groups have criticized some of the current fish management councils for setting catch limits that sometimes double the levels scientists said would allow for recovery of the fisheries.
Gilchrest's bill would also set tighter deadlines for ending overfishing once it has been identified. It would require fishery management councils to end overfishing within one year of identifying the overfishing problem and drafting a management plan to address it.
Fishing groups have said such tight deadlines could shut down fishing altogether, while environmentalists say continued overfishing creates an ever-dwindling resource.
The legislation would also authorize the use of ecosystem management plans. The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy recommended councils take more of an ecosystem-approach in their fishery management.
Environmentalists pan Pombo proposal
Several environmental groups came out against the Pombo legislation yesterday, saying that while the bill appears to include some environmental protections they would support, it includes other changes that weaken existing law. They said they are hopeful the Gilchrest proposal will be more in line with their concerns.
"We're not only pushing for strengthening the law with changes but also guarding against rollbacks," said Gerry Leape, vice president of marine conservation for the National Environmental Trust. "Magnuson-Stevens has a good foundation that needs to be built on."
A key concern with the Pombo bill is a provision that could allow fishing councils to eventually throw out the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA and Magnuson-Stevens contain many of the same general requirements for environmental assessments but use different formats and timelines, which commercial fishing groups and fishery councils have said is overly burdensome and confusing.
NEPA has two environmental assessment requirements that are not in Magnuson-Stevens. Pombo's proposal would add them to the Magnuson process and give the Commerce secretary authority to then exempt fishing councils from NEPA altogether.
Leape said it was "a definite step backward" from the bill the Senate Commerce Committee approved last December.
On the other hand, some fishing groups came out in favor of the proposal. The National Fisheries Institute, an industry group, said it supports several key provisions of the bill. The bill would keep the "positive momentum going in favor of sustainable management of wild fish stocks," said John Connelly, president of the institute.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which represents recreational anglers, called the Pombo effort "an important step forward," saying it would beef up the use of science and allocate fisheries resources more equitably. The group also supports provisions to license saltwater anglers and regulate the tackle they use to ensure it does not damage habitat.
"Our initial examination of this complicated and highly technical legislation tells us that many of our core priorities are being addressed," said Jim Martin, the director of the Berkeley Conservation Institute.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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