The Obama administration today issued a veto threat against a bill that aims to better prepare states for wildfires by strategically thinning out national forests.
As of Tuesday, there were four large active wildfires that had consumed more than 300,000 acres in two states, with only one of the blazes contained. This year to date, there have been 36,275 fires with over 3,960,254 acres burned.
In July, the House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act. Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) has 22 co-sponsors on the legislation, which was in the House Rules Committee today on its way to a final vote.
The bill allows greater state and local involvement in wildfire prevention on federal lands while promising to create tens of thousands of new timber-harvesting and -management jobs. It requires the Forest Service to produce at least half of the sustainable yield of timber each year and, as required by law since 1908, share 25 percent of receipts with the counties to help fund schools and infrastructure projects.
“Across our country, rural forest communities are struggling for survival,” Hastings said when the bill passed out of committee. “These communities have depended on the forest for their livelihoods. Yet in the last three decades, federal forest lands have essentially been shut down due to bureaucratic red tape and lawsuits and these rural communities are paying the price. The federal government made a commitment over 100 years ago to actively manage our national forests and provide a percentage of revenue from that management to counties containing national forest land. Yet the federal government has failed to uphold that promise.”
Today’s veto threat from the Office of Management and Budget says the administration “strongly opposes” the bill, claiming it would “undermine many important existing public land and environmental laws, rules, and processes.”
“The bill would significantly harm sound long-term management of these Federal lands for continued productivity and economic benefit as well as for the long-term health of the wildlife and ecological values sustained by these holdings. H.R. 1526, which includes unreasonable restrictions on certain Federal agency actions, would negatively impact the effective U.S. stewardship of Federal lands and natural resources, undertaken on behalf of all Americans,” the OMB continued.
“…The Administration does not support specifying timber harvest levels in statute, which does not take into account public input, environmental analyses, multiple use management or ecosystem changes,” said the statement of administration policy, adding it “would also accelerate commercial grazing and timber harvests without appropriate environmental review and public involvement, and would impede compliance with NEPA and Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements.”
Timber harvests in national forests are down 80 percent over the past three decades while the Forest Service estimates 65-82 million acres of Forest Service lands are at high risk of wildfires, according to the Natural Resources Committee.