Nick SmithForestry Issues Hinge on November Election

By Nick Smith

“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.” -Unknown

Do you ever feel like the lamb? Decisions affecting the forest products sector are often made by people with little knowledge of our issues. The wolves can’t take away our right to vote. But if we want to avoid becoming their lunch, we must not only vote, but also educate ourselves, our friends, family, and especially the candidates who want our support.

We should support candidates who are committed to protecting jobs in the woods, mills, and other businesses across the forest sector. When it comes to the management of federal forest lands, it’s essential that candidates at all levels of government support solutions that address the litigation and the resulting agency “analysis paralysis” that stymie forest projects, as well as the significant cost and time it takes the Forest Service to meet regulatory requirements.

White House

The election of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to the White House will have a profound effect on the ability of federal forests to contribute to the nation’s wood basket in the future. Neither has said much on the issue, though Trump has expressed opposition to transferring federal lands to the states. Campaigning in the Pacific Northwest during the Republican primary, Trump pledged to “bring back timber jobs” but has yet to offer a detailed plan.

Hillary has been silent on forestry issues. A campaign factsheet supported forest restoration efforts but also pledged to build on Bill Clinton’s Roadless Rule. Her husband presided over the dramatic decline in timber harvests on federal lands, costing America hundreds of forest products companies and thousands of jobs. Today we are experiencing the consequences of “hands off” forest management—catastrophic wildfire, insects, disease, and unsustainable wildfire spending. If she is elected, we must work hard to ensure Hillary doesn’t repeat these mistakes.

Congress

Any hope of restoring common sense to federal forest policy starts with electing a pro-forestry Congress, and thankfully there are more opportunities than ever to elect advocates from both sides of the aisle. Democrats need to gain five seats (four if Hillary is elected) to retake the U.S. Senate, which they lost only two years ago. They face longer odds in the U.S. House of Representatives where Republicans have their largest majority since 1928.

Over the past four years, the U.S. House has repeatedly approved forest management reforms with bipartisan support. The House twice passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 2647) to give the Forest Service and BLM new policy and legal tools to expedite forest management projects. This year the House approved a funding bill to increase hazardous fuels reduction and the federal timber sale programs with the goal of selling four billion board feet of wood for the first time in years.

Also included in this spending measure is a 3,000-acre “categorical exclusion” to speed projects that improve forest health, protect watersheds, and enhance wildlife habitat. An anti-forestry amendment to strip this provision from the spending measure was blocked by Republicans as well as many Democrats representing forested communities. Further, the House voted to include the Resilient Federal Forests Act in its comprehensive energy legislation it is now negotiating with the Senate.

Whether under Republican or Democratic control, the Senate has been slow to approve the federal forest management reforms we desperately need. The Democrat-controlled Senate approved a Farm Bill in 2014 that did offer limited categorical exclusions for forest health projects designated by state governors. But the Senate has done little since, though the Resilient Federal Forests Act was recently approved by the Agriculture Committee.

If Democrats regain Senate control, chairmanship of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee will likely shift from Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington. If you live in a state with a U.S. Senate race, challenge the candidates (or their campaign surrogates) on what they will do to end the Senate’s inaction on these pressing forestry issues.

State and Local Government

It’s just as important to educate yourself and others on state and local government elections, and how candidates will affect the forest products industry and the management of public and private forest lands. When it comes to federal forest management, candidates at all levels should be asked what they are doing to urge the state’s congressional delegations to support reforms. Gubernatorial candidates should be urged to utilize Good Neighbor Authority under federal law, which enables state agencies to perform management activities on federal lands.

Many local governments have been vocal in support of more active management on federal forests. County commissioners, in particular, have been championing reforms while agitating for better communication and coordination with federal agencies. Please support county commissioners who will continue to offer a strong voice on these issues.

Vote on November 8

Bad politicians are elected by good people who don’t show up to vote. Be sure to vote on November 8, and urge your friends and family to do the same. Together, we can restore the health of our forests and rural communities and ensure America’s forest sector remains strong for years to come.

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Nick Smith is Executive Director of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities, a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition advocating for active management of federal forest lands. Learn more at healthyforests.org.


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