Eye on Washington - Jun/Jul 2016
Your Voice was Heard
Off-road vehicle and hunting organizations pushed the Sportsmen’s Heritage Bill for many years. The original bill could have negatively affected wilderness and endangered species, tying the hands of the EPA to reduce the impacts of lead ammunition. Lead shot and fishing equipment have been shown to be lethal to condors and birds of prey. However, efforts by conservation groups including the Northcoast Environmental Center successfully gutted the worst provisions of the Act. Strong letters from the NEC and many organizations locally and nationally demonstrated robust opposition to an effort that is little more than a flagrant fundraising campaign by the National Rifle Association and Safari International. Thanks to your support, the NEC’s comments led to success for conservation as those provisions were removed.
Protecting California’s Coast
Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-CA) authored H.R. 3565, the California National Monument Expansion Act, which would add important offshore rocks and five onshore sites, including Trinidad Head and the Lighthouse Ranch near Loleta. Capps’ bill is supported by 28 CA house Democrats including Jared Huffman. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) introduced a related bill, H.R. 4233 that would include offshore habitats in Southern California. The two House bills were discussed in a hearing on May 12. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein introduced the Senate version of the Act, S. 1971, last August. With luck, Congress will soon move these bills to President Obama’s desk for signature.
Fires Burn up Budgets
There is no denying the devastating effects of large wildfires on both the environment and the economy. There are differing views, however, on how to change the way the costs of fighting those fires are covered.
The Forest Service, some local communities and conservation organizations argue that the current system of using the budget of the Department of Agriculture, and of the Forest Service in particular, to meet unpredictable fire needs during the summer season as they are trying to accomplish conservation, restoration and timber management projects is less than effective.
“Every year, we have to borrow from other accounts. Some years it’s $100 million, other years it’s over half a billion dollars,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “This borrowing doesn’t just impact the Forest Service. It impacts the (local communities neighboring National Forests).”
The relief the U.S. Forest Service seeks is to uncouple their budget from large wildfire suppression and recognize large fires as natural disasters similar to earthquakes and floods.
The budget would move to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or a similar agency. Some spokespeople for the National Association of Forest Service Retirees and conservation groups, however, call foul and accuse the Forest Service of using the issue to bolster their timber operations.
To make matters worse, legislation to change the method of paying for wildfire suppression, “Resilient Federal Forests Act” (H.R. 2647) introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) would open forests to more logging, which, as we are seeing with the Westside Salvage project in the Klamath National forest, would have devastating effects on fish and spotted owls.
Westerman’s bill passed in the House (mostly with Republican support) but does not yet have a companion bill in the Senate.
Vilsack is trying to increase support by pitching the plans to firefighting associations.
Mining - North Fork, Smith
At the time of publication of the EcoNews, the deadline for comment on a plan to remove mineral development rights on 100,000 acres of federal land to stop a proposed nickel mine near the Kalmiopsis Wilderness will be complete. This battle has required decades of vigilance by regional conservationists.
The Forest Service plan would only delay strip-mining for another five years. More importantly, current legislation by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (both D-OR) would extend protections for the river and block the mining forever. Though the legal validity of some claims is still up in the air, similar mining claims have proven of limited value. If work begins, the mine would be located on both sides of Baldface Creek in southern Oregon. The mine location is adjacent to the Wilderness area and drains into the North Fork of the Smith which is a popular rafting destination and important spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead trout.
Representatives Grijalva (D-AZ & ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee), DeFazio (D-OR) and Dingell (R-MI) sponsored a small conference and spoke on the continuing battle in Congress to save the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Grijalva explained that the ESA is the foundation for much important work that extends to ecosystem protection beyond species endangerment.
Though DeFazio has sometimes seemed to have waffled on the ESA, he called out his Democrat governor and state legislature for allowing the killing of OR-7 and other wolves.
Rep. Dingell, whose husband was an author of the original bill, reminded participants that last year alone there were over 100 attempts to weaken the ESA in Congress including the above-referenced Energy Bill. She spoke passionately about the need to continue to be diligent. The conference brought writers, researchers, photographers and ranchers to the table to explain the issues specific to wolf and grizzly bear protections.