Eye on Washington - Jun/Jul 2015

June, 2015


Fishy Concern

The 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Act has been recognized as being very effective at increasing saltwater fish populations after overfishing crashes by setting timelines and goals for populations to achieve sustainable fishing levels.  

As Linwood Pendleton, a senior scholar at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions wrote:  “Thanks to the ambitious fisheries rebuilding goals in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, we have turned the corner in new fisheries management. For the first time, overfishing has been eliminated in 90 percent of the nation’s fish stocks, the number of stocks known to be overfished has declined and 37 stocks have been rebuilt since 2000.”

However, some recreational fishing industry representatives including Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, and Scott Deal, president of Maverick Boats,  didn’t like how slowly things were progressing so they co-chaired a committee to write a report to push Congress to change the Act. Not surprisingly, the bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee and will go to the House floor for a vote.

Also not surprisingly, the vote was not of the much-coveted “bipartisan” nature. Our local Representative Huffman voted against the changes (along with every other Democratic member of the committee), but neighboring Representative LaMalfa voted for the bill along with all his Republican colleagues.

Not all recreational fishermen or fishing groups support loosening the goals. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association wrote: “Changing any of the Act’s provisions now, just as so many of our nation’s marine resources are on the cusp of recovery, is unwarranted and threatens to send us back to the days of overfishing when opportunity was severely limited because of a lack of healthy fish populations.”  The bill is not likely to move beyond the House.

Where There is Fire, There is Someone Who Wants to Log

A study published in the April, 2015 issue of Condor on spotted owls in forests near Yosemite National Park after the Rim Fire adds to the “growing body of research that fire, even high-severity fire, is not a major threat to the persistence of California spotted owls in the Sierra Nevada.” The study also found that  “in contrast to fire, multiple studies show that logging is detrimental to this declining subspecies. Post-fire logging also apparently reduces site occupancy (by spotted owls).”

In spite of this, rapid salvage logging is being pushed by some members of Congress even in late succession reserves where some trees survive fires.  Representative McClintock, whose district includes the Rim fire area, pushed hard for quick salvage logging in the area—conservationists were only able to stop it within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park. Now McClintock is again pushing for more salvage logging without environmental review. He called a hearing on May 14, tellingly titled “Litigation and Increased Planning’s Impact on Our Nation’s Overgrown, Fire-Prone National Forests”—suggesting that the problems in our forests are due to lawsuits brought by conservation organizations (when the government does not do what it is required by law to do), and by too much planning (as opposed to Congressional meddling).

Conservation organizations and, on the other hand, support science-based planning rather than quick-to-the-chainsaw reactions to fires. Clearly, burned trees should be logged in some situations, but McClintock’s work seems to point toward directing the U.S. Forest Service to default to logging at all costs, in spite of negative impacts to endangered species, increased soil erosion and watershed destruction. This one will require watching.

Northwest Forest Plan Changes?

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have initiated public “listening sessions” to explore revamping the Clinton-era Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP)—developed to save spotted owl habitat in old-growth and late succession forests while allowing logging in the Pacific Northwest. The NWFP is a large, three-state landscape level plan to manage our national forests to recover from the devastating clearcutting preferred by the timber industry.
Some conservation organizations, including the NEC, are participating in listening sessions and meetings with agencies and the Obama administration to voice concern about incremental dismantling of the NWFP.  Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist  for Geos Institute in Ashland, OR, recently wrote,  “Several assessments have demonstrated that the scienti?c underpinnings of the plan remain sound and that it has met most of its ecosystem management goals.”  

Most conservation organizations agree the changes that are needed are  increased protections and strengthening the enforcement of the Plan. The public listening sessions  have been widely attended throughout the northwest and many hope the Forest Service and BLM will actually listen at their “listening sessions”  to the public and to scientists. Early signs, however, point to a strong representation by the timber industry calling for increased timber poduction in important  habitat protection areas and less protection for streams and wetlands. The NEC and its member organizations are fully engaged in the process to assure a strong voice for conservation is heard and we will report on any developments. This effort is being initiated by the Administration though the results will generate interest in Congress as well.


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