US Senator Jon Tester (D) of Montana has sponsored a bill, written in secrecy in conjunction with timber industry lawyers and lobbyists, but supported by President Obama and US Secretary of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack, that will decimate the last surviving ecosystem in the US outside of Alaska by mandating its destruction.
A dangerous precedent for forest management endangers wildlife but amounts to a $140 million gift to the timber industry from taxpayers in a time of fiscal austerity.
The bill, often referred to as the “Tester Wildlands Logging Bill,” was unable to withstand scrutiny from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee due to the financial and environmental costs of its Congressionally-mandated logging quotas. Yet it has now magically appeared on pages 893 to 942 of the 1,942-page $1.3 trillion Senate Omnibus Spending Bill.
An analysis of the spending bill headlined “Earmarkers Feast on Pork One Last Time Before Diet,” by The Associated Press, reads:
The spending barons on Capitol Hill, long used to muscling past opponents of bills larded with pet projects, are seeking one last victory before tea party-backed GOP insurgents storm Congress intent on ending the good old days of pork-barrel politics. You might call it the last running of the old bulls in Congress.
In the waning days of the lame duck congressional session, Democrats controlling the Senate — in collaboration with a handful of old school Republicans — are pushing to wrap $1.27 trillion worth of unfinished budget work into a single “omnibus” appropriations bill.
Their 1,900-plus-page bill comes to the floor this week stuffed with provisions sought by lawmakers. It contains thousands of pet projects, known as earmarks, pushed by Democratic and GOP senators alike — despite a pledge by Republicans to give up such projects next year.
Matthew Koehler (executive director of the WildWest Institute) called the sudden appearance of Tester’s ‘Wildlands Logging Bill’ in the “must pass” appropriations measure that funds the federal government for 2011 “underhanded.”
“Let’s get this straight,” Matthew Koehler told the Great Falls Tribune on December 14, 2010. “Senator Tester’s bill never made it out of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, never made it to the floor of the U.S. Senate, and was never introduced in the U.S. House. It’s unfortunate that Senator Tester is pursuing such a questionable, and some might say underhanded, tactic to pass this bill. Clearly, if this bill was as great as Senator Tester says it is, he wouldn’t have to resort to this questionable 11th-hour strategy.”
Over the last two years, Tester has used 6 different names for his bill. Until Tuesday, it was known as the “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act.” But, it was inserted into the Senate Omnibus Spending Bill entitled the “Montana Forest Jobs and Restoration Initiative.” Here’s what Tester’s bill will do:
1. Designates a mere 660,000 acres, or 6.6% to 7.3% of eligible federal (Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) roadless wildlands in Montana as Wilderness.
2. Opens 92.7% to 93.4% of Wilderness-eligible federal roadless wildlands in Montana to roading, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and other industrial development. Environmental lawsuits will probably determine if any of these roadless wildlands might remain protected under provisions of the Clinton Roadless Rule, the Obama Roadless Initiative, and the Montana Wilderness Study Act. Attorneys familiar with public lands laws disagree on whether or not Tester’s bill conveys what is termed a “hard release” of 92.7% to 93.4% of Wilderness-eligible roadless wildlands. ‘Hard release’ would exempt all roading, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and other industrial development upon these National Forest and Bureau of Land Management wildlands from all federal environmental, scientific, or public participation laws and regulations.
3. Removes more than one million acres of roadless wildlands (1.5 times the land mass of Rhode Island) surrounding Yellowstone National Park in southwest Montana’s Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest from the protections of the Clinton Roadless Rule, the Obama Roadless Initiative, and the late U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf’s (D-MT) Montana Wilderness Study Act, then opens them to roading, logging, mining, oil and gas drilling, and other industrial development. Tester’s bill includes maps that reclassify these currently protected roadless wildlands to a new category, officially designated “Timber Suitable or Open to Harvest.”
4. Withdraws two entire mountain ranges, the Sapphire Mountains and the West Pioneer Mountains, from protection secured by legislation carefully shepherded through Congress in 1977 by the late U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf (D-MT), a conservation advocate.
5. Mandates the roading, logging, and development of over two-thirds of the Sapphire Mountains and the West Pioneer Mountains. Only high-elevation “rocks and ice” barren tracts would be designated Wilderness. Of the 94,000 acres of public roadless wildlands currently in the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area, designated by Sen. Metcalf, only 53,000 acres would be protected from development. Of the 151,000 acres of public roadless wildlands currently in the West Pioneers Wilderness Study Area, designated by Sen. Metcalf, only 26,000 acres would be protected from development.
6. “Undesignates” the Axolotl Lakes Wilderness Study Area, Bell/Limekiln Canyons Wilderness Study Area, East Fork Blacktail Wilderness Study Area, Henneberry Ridge Wilderness Study Area, and Hidden Pasture Wilderness Study Area. These roadless wildlands would be subjected to “logging without laws,” as Tester’s bill specifically excludes logging from the protective provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
7. Circumvents existing protective National Forest planning laws, procedures, and regulations. Currently, the U.S. Forest Service is required to honestly and scientifically evaluate “site-specific impacts” of proposed logging. Under Tester’s bill, these requirements would be supplanted by a new system of “Landscape Scale Restoration Projects” where Congressionally-mandated logging would take place in the absence of well-established forest planning procedures requiring best science, public information, and public involvement.
8. Congressionally mandates timber cutting levels, despite the environmental and financial costs. Rather than decisions being made at local levels by informed forest science professionals, Tester’s bill dictates a one-size-fits-all prescription that prioritizes logging above other uses.
9. Prioritizes roading, logging, and other industrial development over all other uses. Under Tester’s bill, taxpayer-subsidized roading and logging receive consideration over anything else, be it elk hunting (which would diminish as elk habitat is removed by Congressionally-mandated timber cutting), fishing (decimated by associated water degradation as a consequence of unsustainable logging), reliable supplies of clean irrigation water for agriculture (logging causes dramatically faster watershed runoffs and catastrophically increased sedimentation), pure community water supplies (many Montana cities get their water from nearby public roadless wildlands), diminished wildlife habitats, and the continued existence of numerous rare, threatened, and endangered species.
10. Promotes “logging without laws.” By Congressionally-mandating timber cuts be placed above all other concerns, Tester’s bill would statutorily exempt roading and timber cutting on National Forest and Bureau of Land Management wildlands from the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act (which Tester’s bill mistakenly calls the “National Environmental Protection Act”), Wilderness Act, National Forest Management Act (that governs National Forests), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (that governs Bureau of Land Management lands).
Tester argues environmental laws will be adhered to. But, the initiated know when Congress mandates timber cutting quotas, federal courts have consistently held that Congressional mandates to cut down the public’s trees always trump federal environmental, public participation, and land use laws and regulations. Tester’s and the timber industry’s public relations staffs lull the public into believing we can “get the cut out and still abide by environmental laws.” However, the courts have consistently ruled Congressionally-mandated cutting quotas trump environmental and public participation laws.
The well established legal principle is clear: If a conflict in law arises, “the specific overrides the general.” I.E., Congressionally-mandated timber cutting quotas preempt such laws as the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act, National Forest Management Act, and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
11. Mandates taxpayer-subsidized timber cutting slated at over 5,000 acres per year until a total 70,000-acres have been cut on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in southwest Montana. Forest Service employees and officials readily admit the roadless wildlands of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest are unproductive forestlands containing no commercial timber of any value.
The public wildlands that Tester and the timber industry want logged are east of the Continental Divide and receive very little precipitation. Located on steep, fragile mountainous slopes with little-to-no soil, minimal rain and snowfall, and extremely short growing seasons (30 to 60 days) due to high altitudes, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s trees are mere “sticks,” a term coined by Forest Service timber cruisers.
150 years-old trees might reach a maximum of ten inch diameters at the bottom. Because these trees taper considerably, when logged, they are unsuitable for anything except firewood and wood chips. Foresters know that high-altitude lodgepole pine-dominant forests are useless when treated as commodities. Logging trucks carrying these “sticks” transport from 110 to 150 trees in a single truckload.
Due to these limiting factors, Tester’s bill, if not removed from the Omnibus Spending Bill, will cost the public at least $1,400 per acre to log its mandated 70,000 acres of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and its mandated 30,000 acres in the Kootenai National Forest. “This $140,000,000 gift to the timber industry is little more than corporate welfare,” said Michael Garrity, an economist and executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
12. It ignores historical timber cuts from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. Tester claims that Congressionally-mandated and taxpayer-subsidized timber cutting will come from the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest’s “suitable timber base” and that inventoried roadless areas are not threatened. But, Tester did not involve the Forest Service in any phase of his covert bill writing sessions with the timber industry. If he had, Tester would know that Forest Service staff have established the forest’s sustainable yearly harvest at a maximum of 500 acres. The most the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest has ever cut, even during the housing boom, was 2,800 acres a year.
13. Congressionally-mandates a cut of at least 30,000 acres of prime grizzly bear habitat in northwest Montana’s Kootenai National Forest, imposing disruptions that bear biologists say will force the rapidly-dwindling and endangered population of grizzly bears into insecure habitats, more conflicts with humans, and, ultimately, extinction. Much of the Kootenai National Forest already looks like moonscape from decades of overcutting.
14. It violates Tester’s 2006 campaign promises to “protect all of Montana’s remaining roadless areas.” “Senator Tester broke two campaign promises,” said Garrity. “When Senator Tester ran against Senator Burns, he promised to protect all roadless areas and not use riders for public lands legislation. Senator Tester’s rider opens up more than one million acres of the best elk hunting habitat in the world to clearcutting. Grizzly bears in the Yaak, the smallest grizzly bear population in the world, are now at risk.”
15. It alienates Tester’s main supporters. In the November 7, 2006, general election, Tester defeated Burns by less than 1 percent of the vote, a razor-thin 3,562 vote margin. Conservationists provided the margin of victory that allowed Tester to defeat incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns. In tacking solely towards the timber industry, moneyed corporations that never previously supported him in any fashion, Tester has abandoned his community based constituency.
16. It contains no Congressional mandates for any reclamation or restoration of roaded, logged, developed National Forest lands and watersheds. If restoration is attempted, scientists believe it will fail, due to high altitudes, steep slopes, no soil, minimal precipitation (east of the Continental Divide), very short growing seasons, and global climate change, which has now stressed high altitude forests to their limits (e.g., high altitude species such as white bark pines and pikas are fast approaching extinction). Such extreme conditions create timber “mining,” rather than sustainable forestry.
17. Disenfranchises public lands stakeholders throughout the nation unable to personally attend on-site “resource advisory committees” by requiring their presence for comment.
18. Eliminates traditional Forest Service based citizen participation procedures, including appeals of illegal and environmentally destructive roading, logging, and development. The tin ear politicians have developed will be protected by law.
19. Promotes the burning of forest biomass in power plants, a practice even more polluting than burning coal. Due to its low energy content, burning wood releases 1.5 times the carbon dioxide than burning coal to produce the same amount of energy. Carbon dioxide is a key component of greenhouse gases causing global climate change. Dioxin is an associated key toxin unsurpassed in its affinity for human tissue (bio-accumulative) along with it’s ability to destroy our children, our immune systems, our health, and our communities.
20. It permits off-road vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheel-drive vehicles, and other motorized access into currently roadless Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Wilderness-eligible wild-lands. The ominous toll on wildlife is untold and unmitigated.
21. “Undesignates” the Axolotl Lakes Wilderness Study Area, Bell/Limekiln Canyons Wilderness Study Area, East Fork Blacktail/Blacktail Mountains Wilderness Study Area, Farlin Creek Wilderness Study Area, Henneberry Ridge Wilderness Study Area, Humbug Spires Wilderness Study Area, Ruby Mountains Wilderness Study Area, and Hidden Pasture Wilderness Study Area. These roadless wildlands would be subjected to “logging without laws,” as Tester’s bill excludes them from protective provisions of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act…a radical step backward in protecting our few remaining forest based ecosystems and the wildlife they protect. This ‘man against nature’ mentality will ultimately doom humanity itself.
22. Overrides necessary forest planning processes that involve full public information and participation.
23. Overwhelmingly impacts at-risk, rare, threatened, and endangered species. As the Tester bill Congressionally-mandates timber cuts, curtails forest planning and public involvement, and restricts the Forest Service from accurately assessing logging’s impacts; environmental protections provided by the Endangered Species Act will be effectively preempted.
By requiring unsustainable industrial-scale logging upon our remaining fragile public wildlands, Tester’s bill would irrevocably harm essential habitats of rare, threatened, and endangered species that characterize the wild nature of the northern Rockies, such as the gray wolf, bull trout, cutthroat trout (Montana’s official state fish), otter, mountain goat, mountain sheep, elk, arctic grayling, northern goshawk, boreal owl, pileated woodpecker, ferruginous hawk, Montana vole, sage thrasher, wild bison, peregrine falcon, bald eagle, pine marten, fisher, lynx, wolverine, and grizzly bear (Montana’s official state animal)…all our brothers sharing this earthly coil, for how small would our lives be without them?
24. Ignores the scientifically demonstrated need to protect different elevation habitats and their dependent species. Conservation biologists have long understood the need to protect these different elevation habitats and dependent species with designated core areas, buffer zones, and connecting biological corridors, or linkages.
More recently, scientists have documented that forest habitats are changing radically, due to global climate change. The species depending on our National Forests for survival are increasingly stressed by climate change and are increasingly in need of broader migration opportunities.
25. Eliminates critical core habitats and severs connecting roadless biological and botanical corridors, or linkages, between the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Salmon-Selway Ecosystem, and the Glacier/Bob Marshall Ecosystem.
Collectively, these ecosystems and connecting wildlands comprise the Northern Rockies Ecosystem. By fragmenting/separating all of these public wildlands, Tester’s bill would effectively destroy the Northern Rockies Ecosystem, the ONLY functioning ecosystem with all its native species remaining in the lower 49 states.
26. Extirpates wildlife species. The Tester bill overrides the Endangered Species Act, promotes “logging without laws,” and severely restricts Forest Service scientists from accurately assessing logging’s impacts. The public will never know the full extent to which at-risk secluded, rare, threatened, and endangered species will be impacted. Species like the wolverine, pika, and pure strain cutthroat trout are currently teetering on the brink of extinction.
27. Postulates there is a demand for timber. But no demand for sawmills’ lumber exists. Home building has come to a virtual halt. Tester’s bill is undisguised in its privatization of public resources and forcing public assumption of huge private timber corporate debts and liabilities.
A mere four corporations: Pyramid Mountain Lumber (Seeley Lake), Roseburg Lumber (Missoula), RY Timber (Townsend and Livingston), and Sun Mountain Lumber (Deerlodge) will receive benefits of $140 million in tax dollars spent, watersheds degraded, habitats lost, endangered species exterminated, and public wildlands destroyed.
Montana native Paul Richards specializes in Western politics and resource issues.