Timber from Yosemite fire sparks debate over salvage plan

McClatchy Washington BureauSeptember 27, 2013 

— The devastating Rim Fire around Yosemite National Park has now rekindled a fierce fight over salvage logging.

Some want to speed commercial removal of the wrecked timber left behind by the fire that has burned over 257,000 Sierra Nevada acres since mid-August. Others caution about the consequences of eliminating the standard regulatory and judicial reviews. The politically savvy agree that a far-reaching timber salvage bill newly introduced by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., is only the start of serious debate.

“If this effort is anything more than just a press release, he’s going to have to be able to sit down and negotiate with the Senate,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., said Friday.

The bill introduced late Thursday is a more aggressive version of a salvage logging amendment added, on a largely party line vote, a week ago to a separate piece of House legislation about public lands. Like McClintock’s House amendment, his bill effectively blocks lawsuits to challenge salvage logging plans.

The new House bill also waives the normal public notice, public comment and administrative review requirements that apply to most salvage timber sales on federal lands. The bill orders federal officials to “promptly plan and implement salvage timber sales” and declares that the timber sales “shall proceed immediately and to completion” without interference from the usual federal environmental laws.

“If any good can come of this (Rim Fire) tragedy, it would be the timely salvage of fire-killed timber that could provide employment to local mills and desperately needed economic activity to mountain communities,” McClintock declared in a statement. “But this can’t happen if salvage is indefinitely delayed by bureaucratic processes or the usual litigation filed by extremist environmental groups."

McClintock further likened his effort to a 2002 logging measure affecting the Black Hills National Forest, which then-Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota slipped into a larger defense bill. The Black Hills provision covered logging on approximately 700 acres, according to news accounts at the time, compared to the quarter-of-a-million acres that would be covered by the McClintock bill.

“The timber salvage can go a long way to benefit local economies throughout the state,” Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a co-sponsor of McClintock’s bill, said during House debate last week.

Skeptics include some who agree that speedier salvage logging could help, but who also fear that the McClintock language goes too far, too fast.

Costa, for one, voted for the House amendment last week, and he stressed Friday the need to “expedite the process” to get salvage logging underway. He also said, though, that he was not informed about McClintock’s bill until after it had been introduced with eight Republican co-sponsors, including House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of California.

“Once again, it appears to be an overreach,” Costa said. “I’ve never seen on any legislation that he’s introduced, on water or anything else, where (McClintock) is involved in an effort to reach out” across party lines.

McClintock’s office did not respond to multiple queries Fridays. The congressman did not respond to a reporter’s in-person request for comment, and his office did not provide a copy of the bill language.

The offices of California’s two senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, were not aware of McClintock’s bill until they were informed by a reporter.

Next Thursday, his legislation will be considered in a hearing by the House Committee on Natural Resources. The rapidly scheduled hearing, and the support of party leaders, including McCarthy and the chairman of the resources panel, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., shows the bill could be on a fast-track, at least in the House. The chamber earlier passed the McClintock salvage logging amendment by a 243 to 172 vote.

The real contest awaits in the Senate.

“There are ways to do this,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said during earlier House debate. “But this, I don’t think is the best way to go forward.”

DeFazio is the senior ranking Democrat on the Natural Resources committee, and has supported some past salvage logging measures. He cautioned, though, that “we don’t really know yet” key details about potential Rim Fire salvage logging sites, including “what the conditions are, what areas would be critical to surviving wildlife, what areas are critical to watersheds and how we will deal with those areas, how we’re going to recover the recreation in that area in the future (and) what would happen with building of roads and logging and salvage logging in those areas.”

On Thursday, McClintock countered that “up to one billion board of feet of timber” now awaits harvesting, if loggers can move quickly.

Email: mdoyle@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

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