House logging bill remains an object of debate | SierraSun.com

House logging bill remains an object of debate

Josh Singer
Sun News Service

Nevada County environmentalists are opposing a bill supported by Rep. John Doolittle and approved by the U.S. House that they say will do more harm to forests without reducing fire risks.

“The bill (H.R. 4200) would fast-track logging action after environmental events (such as storms or fires),” said Jason Rainey, director of the South Yuba River Citizens League.

Forests are fragile during such times and particularly unsuited for commercial logging, according to several environmental groups. Commercial timber harvesting does not reduce wildfire risk due to the type of trees often selected for logging and the science of forest regrowth, said Chad Hansen, director of the John Muir project in Grass Valley.

Dale Bosworth, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, emphasized the “lack of scientific studies … in the area of post-fire tree removal” during his testimony to federal lawmakers. H.R. 4200, however, “helps address this issue through integration of management and science,” he testified.

Tahoe National Forest Service spokeswoman Ann Westling said commercial logging is not incompatible with preserving the forest’s health, adding the U.S. Forest Service’s current emphasis is on removing fuels to reduce fire risk.

The Forest Service has “betrayed public trust,” said Rainey. The Forest Service earns a portion of its income through timber sales, with the Tahoe National Forest Service garnering $1.7 million of its $24 million budget through logging sales. Current forest management also threatens watersheds such as the Yuba River, Rainey said.

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According to Doolittle spokesperson Laura Blackann, “(H.R. 4200) was supported by a broad bipartisan list of members of Congress and national and regional organizations.”

H.R. 4200 was approved 243 to 182 on May 17. Two hundred and two members of the Republican majority voted for the bill and 155 Democrats opposed it. The Senate has yet to consider the legislation.

“Extreme environmental groups have spread misleading facts about what this bill actually does,” Blackann stated. “Throughout his time in Congress, Mr. Doolittle has consistently supported the restoration and preservation of our national parks, forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and lands.”

“(Doolittle) simply could not be more hostile to forest conservation values,” said Hansen, adding that the congressman “does whatever the timber industry is advocating.”

Doolittle, who has been criticized for taking campaign contributions from groups such as Indian tribes outside of California and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, also received campaign contributions from the Emmerson family, owners of Sierra Pacific Industries, prior to his vote on H.R. 4200.

SPI does more logging in the Tahoe National Forest than any other company, Westling said.

Mark Emmerson of SPI donated $1,800 to Doolittle’s campaign fund in March 2006, two months before the vote on H.R. 4200. Owner Archie “Red” Emmerson gave the eight-term incumbent $1,000 in June. Mark Emmerson also made several previous donations to the Republican candidate, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

“(H.R. 4200) will assist our forests after a catastrophic event, such as a fire or hurricane,” Blackann stated as a reason for Doolittle’s vote on the bill.