Remember the Sagebrush Rebellion? We sure do. It was a movement aimed at taking federal land away from the people and giving it to special-interest groups to exploit.
Today, the Sagebrush Rebellion has found new life in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The committee’s chairman, Washington State’s Doc Hastings, is sponsoring legislation that will radically change the way every National Forest is managed.
Hastings’ bill, the Federal Forests County Revenue, Schools, and Jobs Act of 2012 (H.R. 4019), is a Sagebrush Rebel’s dream.
The bill will require that National Forests be managed for a single purpose: To make money for the counties in which they are located.
The bill establishes a mandatory revenue amount for each National Forest based upon a 20-year period that saw the highest unsustainable logging levels in U.S. history.
To further set the clock back, Hastings’ bill repeals a slew of environmental laws, including:
The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974;
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969;
The National Forest Management Act of 1976;
The Endangered Species Act of 1973;
And even the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960.
To replace these laws, the bill will require, only “to the extent the Secretary considers appropriate and feasible,” a short “environmental review.”
And just to make sure that people who care about National Forests have no recourse, the bill trumpets that “there shall be no judicial review of the environmental report.”
When Hastings first proposed his bill in draft form last fall, FSEEE executive director Andy Stahl was invited by the committee’s Democrats to testify on it in Washington, D.C. HE pointed out that the bill is not only an environmental disaster, it is a fiscal nightmare. That’s because the bill’s mandatory revenue targets will force the Forest Service to sell billions of board feet of timber at costs greater than the timber is worth.
To make matters even worse, the Act allows for cash incentives to be given to federal employees who help the Forest Service exceed the minimum revenue targets—in other words, extra payment for those who encourage more logging!
It was not uncommon in the days of unsustainable overcutting for the government to spend $100 to sell one dollar’s worth of timber. Those days were good for the timber industry, as it didn’t have to pay the government’s costs; good for the Forest Service because Congress inflated its budget to deliver logs to the timbering special interests; and good for timber-dependent counties that got a slice of the pork.
Not so good, however, for the environment or American taxpayer.
That was the era when Montana’s Bitterroot National Forest terraced its hillsides like Italian vineyards in an attempt to get seedlings to grow after clear-cut logging. It was the era when Oregon’s Siuslaw National Forest was logging mountainsides so steep that workers had to rappel down the slope to cut the trees. With each major rainstorm, landslides from clearcuts and logging roads would devastate salmon streams.
It was the era of logging roads being carved into every remote valley the Forest Service could get its hands on, and when Alaska’s Tongass National Forest was cutting the nation’s largest temperate rainforest to feed a foreign-owned mill that made rayon out of old-growth wood pulp.
Those are the days to which Representative Hastings wants to return. And he’s in a big hurry to do so. Two days after Hastings introduced his bill, he announced a surprise committee mark-up and voted the bill to the House floor.
Even more dangerous, however, is that Congressman Hastings is trying to hold hostage 729 rural counties throughout the nation to his radical agenda. Since 2000, these counties have been receiving in-lieu-of-tax payments from the federal treasury to compensate them for the non-taxable status of federal lands.
This program, called Secure Rural Schools, expired last year. Many counties and small school districts now face budget shortfalls that will mean the loss of teachers, sheriff patrols, county libraries and other key government services.
Just last week, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to renew the Secure Rural Schools program for a year. The House, however, is another matter altogether. Hastings wants to force counties to adopt his radical, anti-environmental agenda instead of renewing the Secure Rural Schools payments. He wants to use county financial pain as leverage to turn the environmental clock back decades to the days when our National Forests were being overcut and abused.
We can—in fact, must—stop Hastings from doing so.
FSEEE is building a coalition of organizations to counter the Hastings’ pro-logging agenda. Our coalition agrees that the federal government needs to be a good neighbor by renewing the Secure Rural Schools payments at their original year 2000 level. We agree that turning back the clock to the era of overcutting is bad for communities and bad for our environment. We agree that some logging makes sense on our National Forests, but only where it pays for itself and can be done without harming recreation, fish, wildlife and the quality of our water.
Not only do we need to stop Hastings’ horrible bill, we must also persuade the over 700 counties that have received Secure Rural Schools payments that they should be forward looking for economic prosperity—not pining away for the past.
Counties and their communities with nearby public lands can become prosperous by recognizing the permanent value of these lands to a vibrant economy. National Forests are a magnet for entrepreneurs, telecommuters, retirees, and growing tourism and recreation businesses. These are long-term sustainable jobs, not dependent upon environmental exploitation and massive below-cost logging.
The new Sagebrush Rebels think that the Great Recession we are digging ourselves out of offers the perfect opportunity to roll back protection of our land, air and water.