Walden-backed forest bill approved

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden's controversial bill to speed the ability of federal forestland managers to make timber salvage decisions is now on its way to the Senate.

The Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act HR 4200, co-authored by U.S. Reps. Brian Baird, D-Wash., and Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., passed the House by a vote of 243 to 182.

"Thousands upon thousands of foresters, scientists, firefighters, local government officials, and private landowners agree: Federal forestland managers need the authorities provided by the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act for the future of America's national forests," Walden, a Republican from Hood River and chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, said in a prepared statement.

"The professionals who manage and protect our forests on a daily basis support this legislation because it allows them to use their expertise, hands-on experience and practical knowledge to make timely and responsible decisions necessary to improve the health, vitality and safety of our national forests," he added.

Joseph Vaile, campaign director for the Ashland-based Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, an environmental group opposed to the bill, doesn't share that view.

"This bill is completely unnecessary," he said. "The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management already get more than 40 percent of their logs from salvage. This gives them a blank check to move forward with projects without the normal checks and balances.

"They billed it as a recovery piece of legislation when it is exactly the opposite," he added. "Walden often talks about this as having bipartisan support. There is also bipartisan opposition. Hopefully, that will cause pause in the Senate."

Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican, has a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill was sparked in part by delayed salvage following the 2002 Biscuit fire in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, according to Walden. Much of the commercial value of the smaller, fire-killed timber has been lost to wood rot and insect infestation.

The bill gives natural resource managers 30 days after a wildfire or other natural catastrophe affecting more than 1,000 acres of public lands to come up with a plan, followed by a 90-day public comment period, Walden said. Administrative or judicial appeals still would be allowed following the comment period, he said.

"This legislation will enable us to utilize dead timber instead of letting it go to waste and to responsibly restore the health and diversity of our forests after a catastrophic event like a fire or hurricane," Baird said.

But Jay Inslee, D-Wash., disagreed.

"Here we go again," Inslee told The Associated Press. "We have a clear skies bill, and we get more pollution, a deficit reduction bill and get more deficits. Now we have a forest recovery bill with less science and less common sense."

The bill's opponents say the delay in salvaging timber from the Biscuit fire was the result of the Forest Service's decision to increase harvest from roughly 100 million board feet of salvage to some 377 million board feet, causing protests and appeals.