House Committee Advances GOP Legislation Attacking National Forest Protections

A key House committee Tuesday approved legislation that would devastate national forests by gutting endangered species protections, limiting public comment and environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act and increasing unfettered logging across all national forests and public forests run by the Bureau of Land Management. 

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), would eliminate the Endangered Species Act’s requirements that the Forest Service ensure logging projects do not harm endangered wildlife and plants. The House Committee on Natural Resources approved the measure along party lines.

“House Republicans are eager to let special interests destroy some of our most vital public lands, wildlife and watersheds,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This bill would return forest management to the dark ages, when reckless logging devastated wildlife, degraded rivers and ruined recreation opportunities for countless Americans.”

The legislation is a timber-industry wish list. Among other harmful provisions, it would allow rushed logging projects up to 30,000 acres or 46 square miles without meaningful public involvement or scientific evaluation of harms. The bill would render forest plans meaningless, roll back protections under the Northwest forest plan designed to protect old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, and force the Forest Service to ignore potential impacts to thousands of species of concern.

It would also give private landowners with easements over public land full ownership of that land and allow spraying of herbicides without review of harm to water, fish and wildlife.

The committee also voted along party lines to approve a separate bill sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) that would remove hundreds of acres from Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge and strip the refuge’s wilderness designation to allow a road to be built through its heart. The road would destroy wildlife habitat, including fragile wetlands and marshes.

Young’s legislation would remove 206 acres from the Alaskan wildlife refuge in exchange for low-quality state lands. That would permit construction of a road connecting the towns of King Cove and Cold Bay. The Izembek National Wildlife Refuge is home to millions of migrating birds and important habitat for grizzly bears and salmon.

“Bulldozing a road through Izembek would devastate this breathtakingly beautiful wildlife refuge,” Hartl said. “Caribou and emperor geese would no longer have a home in a refuge created nearly 40 years ago to protect them. Wrecking this national treasure would deprive future generations of Americans of a vital piece of their natural heritage.”

In the first four months of the 115th Congress, Republicans have introduced more than 45 bills that attack public lands, weaken environmental safeguards on those lands or turn over control to states and local governments. These attacks come despite the fact that the vast majority of voters across political parties support protecting and maintaining forests, national parks, monuments and other public lands and waters.

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