USA: Hoping a new Republican majority in the House might better its chances of passing, U.S. Rep. Wally Herger has reintroduced a controversial clearing and logging plan designed to reduce fire dangers around rural communities.
This time, the Chico Republican aims to have his Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention and Community Protection Act gain national traction.
Under the plan, local governments could declare a fire-risk emergency on nearby federal forest land. The move would put them on a fast track to clearing and logging projects while bypassing lawsuits from environmental groups.
Herger first introduced the act in 2009 for California, but it didn’t pass under the then-Democrat-controlled House.
This time around, Herger hopes his newly empowered Republican peers will use their majority in the House to pass the bill, which would now apply on a national level.
“This is a problem throughout the Western states,” Herger said Friday of what he calls thick, fire-prone forests threatening rural towns.
It didn’t take long for environmentalist groups to criticize the act.
“From a scientific standpoint, the basic premise of the bill has no credibility, said Chad Hanson, director and staff scientist for the John Muir Project.
Hanson said Friday that Herger is “about 20 years behind the times” on the latest scientific research, which shows fire in all its forms is actually good for a forest. He said communities would be much better served and at a much cheaper cost if they worked on clearing forest fuels immediately away from homes in what firefighters call “defensible space.”
Herger’s legislation seeks to implement much larger clearing projects on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management acreage if the projects are identified “at risk” by a nearby community government or watershed group. The projects would apply to within a mile and a half of a town, Herger said.
The federal agencies would still have to conduct environmental reviews on the proposed thinning projects.
But under Herger’s law, they wouldn’t have to come up with a list of alternatives that can delay the process. They also wouldn’t be stymied by environmental groups’ legal challenges. Herger says environment groups use the courts to tack on tens of thousands of dollars of legal bills, making lawsuits too expensive to continue. Lawsuits also block the projects outright, he said.
The act has 10 Republican co-sponsors, including Rep. Tom McClintock from Granite Bay and Rob Bishop of Utah, who leads the House subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Herger said he hopes they can persuade enough of their peers for the bill to pass the House.
Passing the Democrat controlled Senate is another story.
Herger said Friday that his former ally on north state forest-clearing matters, Democratic California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has so far not been comfortable with the provisions of the bill that bypass the court system. A spokesman for Feinstein said Friday that the Senator couldn’t be reached to comment on the matter.
Herger and Feinstein worked closely to pass the so-called Quincy Library Group legislation.
Started in 1992 by a timber industry forester, a county supervisor and an environmental attorney, the group created a pilot project that it said would lower fire danger over much of Northern California’s landscape.
The project plan consists of 1,700 miles of fuel breaks through eight counties, including Shasta and Tehama.
Stymied by nine lawsuits and 157 timber-sale appeals, the fuel breaks and thinning for which the group won approval were only 5 percent completed by 2009, the last year for which figures were available.