Forest fire bill provisions fall short

Date: 
Thu, 06/23/2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 23, 2016

Contact: Steve Moyer, TU vice president of government affairs, smoyer@tu.org, (571) 274-0593

               Kate Miller, TU director of government affairs, kmiller@tu.org, (703) 489-6411

 

Trout Unlimited: forest fire bill provisions fall short

Draft proposal inadequate for wildfire budget, watershed health

 (Washington, D.C.)— As another wildfire season begins to heat up, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will meet today to review comments and take testimony on a draft legislative proposal, the Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act,  aimed at improving resilience in our national forests and easing agency budgets stretched thin by the costs of fighting wildfires.

Trout Unlimited has raised concerns about whether the draft, released last month, goes far enough to address forest management needs and watershed health.

“While the goals are admirable, this draft falls short on solutions,” said Kate Miller, TU’s director of government affairs. “And in some cases—specifically, the provisions related to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska—the draft is a big step backwards.”

In a recent blog post, Trout Unlimited staff outlined concerns with the draft, noting areas of strength, but also calling out some notable weaknesses.  Among the most significant concerns:

  • Inadequate Budget for Fighting Wildfires: While a step in the right direction, the bill doesn’t fully account for rising fire suppression costs, which means those costs will continue to be covered by raiding other essential forest management projects, such as fish habitat restoration—a budget practice called “fire borrowing” that TU strongly opposes.   
  • Inadequate Focus on Forest and Watershed Health: While TU embraces  the collaborative approach,  the draft bill does not provide adequate safeguards or public involvement to ensure that watershed health (for instance, roadless areas) will be protected from the ramped-up timber harvest and road-building activities directed by the draft. 
  • Pacific Salmon Impacts in Tongass National Forest Provisions:  In a series of provisions entirely unrelated to the draft bill’s initial goals, the draft would undercut and delay completion of the nearly finalized Tongass Land Management Plan amendment,  and put at risk some of the most productive wild salmon streams in the world.  The plan amendment represents the input of thousands of Alaskans and the unanimous, collaboratively developed recommendations of the Tongass Advisory Committee.  Ignoring stakeholder input in this planning process will allow “business as usual” to continue in the Tongass, where divisive timber management fuels conflict and increases uncertainty for all stakeholders. Such a delay ignores stakeholder input, demotes important fisheries, and puts timber harvest above a fisheries and tourism industry that accounts for roughly 25 percent of all southeast Alaska employment and supports salmon businesses up and down the Pacific coast. Read TU’s comments to Sen. Murkowski on the Tongass provisions here.

“TU appreciates that the discussion draft aims to end the practice of fire borrowing and increase the pace of restoration on our national forests and BLM lands,” said Steve Moyer, TU’s vice president of government affairs. “But the bottom line is that the bill’s management actions must lead to healthier  watersheds, not less healthy watersheds.”

He added, “Wildfire is a serious issue – increasingly so in the face of a changing climate – and the committee deserves praise for working to tackle the complex problems facing our public lands.  But we hope the next iteration of the draft legislation provides a path forward that works for fish and wildlife, public land stakeholders and the agencies that manage America’s public lands.”

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Additional Resources for Media:

TU’s views on the draft Wildfire Budgeting, Response, and Forest Management Act:

·        Read TU's Blog: Draft bill needs work to address fire borrowing, Tongass protection (2016-05-27);

·        Read TU’s Comments on the SENR Draft Wildfire Bill (2016-05-13);

·        Read TU’s Letter to Alaska Senator Murkowski, chair of the SENR committee, discussing concerns with the Tongass provisions, specifically.

To read more about the impacts of wildfire on agency budgets and how “fire borrowing” impacts trout and salmon habitat:

·        Read TU’s Blog, Raiding Budget to Fight Fires Doesn’t Work (2015-11-05)

·        Read TU CEO and President, Chris Wood’s Testimony on Impacts of Fire Borrowing (2015-11-05)

To read more about the incredible values of the Tongass National Forest and about the Management Plan Revision process:

·        http://www.alaskapublic.org/2016/03/08/usfs-chief-says-no-to-delay-of-tongass-timber-transition/

·        http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/putting-salmon-first-on-the-tongass

·        Visit American Salmon Forest to learn more about the T77 campaign and TU’s efforts to protect the Tongass. 

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