To: Interested Parties

FROM: David Edelson and Sami Yassa, Natural Resources Defense Council

RE: Quincy Library Group Legislative Proposal, H.R. 4082

DATE: September 20, 1996

We have reviewed the proposed forestry legislation supported by the Quincy Library Group, H.R. 4082. Base on our review, we have a number of serious concerns about the bill, and therefore oppose the bill in its current form. However, we are willing to work with the Quincy Library Group to develop a revised proposal that could merit our support. This memo briefly outlines our concerns with the current proposal.

Our most basic concerns focus on Section 2(d), which requires implementation of “defensible, shaded fuelbreaks” and uneven-aged forest management prescriptions” throughout vast portions of three national forests. Neither of these critical terms is defined, and neither authority is at all limited in terms of acreage. Frankly, we are surprised by this omission, since these terms are subject to a wide range of interpretations that could result in widespread

The combined results of these two provisions could well be an enormous increase in environmentally irresponsible logging throughout the three forests covered by the legislation. The mere fact that logging is carried out to achieve a “defensible, shaded fuelbreak” or pursuant to “uneven-aged forest management” by no means assures that such logging will be environmentally sound.

These terms cry out for rigorous definitions that leave no room for misinterpretation. Similarly, the absence of any acreage limitation on the implementation of either of these proposals is an invitation to very broad application of what is now an untested proposal.

Another important point, which is implied but not stated explicitly, is that these provisions would be implemented without regard to existing laws and policies. In effect, the proposal would create an enormous exception to the CASPO logging restrictions, which were based on the best available scientific information. The legislation would also appear to override all other provisions of existing laws or land management plans that might be inconsistent with them, or more environmentally restrictive. This issue is of great concern and, at a minimum needs to be clarified.

The provision (Section 2(e)) requiring the Secretary to “use the most cost-effective means” of implementing the proposal may exacerbate all of these potential abuses. Since the bill does not define “cost-effective,” the term could well be interpreted by the Forest Service to mean getting the greatest financial return on proposed timber sales. The effect would be that the biggest trees would be targeted first. Maybe this is not what the bill’s drafters had in mind, but the section as written allows the Secretary broad discretion to determine what is “cost-effective.”

We are also concerned about the exception that would allow logging of SOHAs and PACs - areas specifically set aside to protect the California spotted owl -- where the Secretary determines that a “catastrophic event” has occurred. Although the bill would require an EIS before such a determination, the definition of a “catastrophic event” is far too loose and open to misinterpretation. Indeed, few areas of our national forests have not “experienced disturbances from wildfires, insect infestations, disease, drought, or other natural causes,” at least to some extent. Clearly, this is a loophole that could swallow the rule.

The general tone and context of the bill are also troubling. For example, the findings (a(1)) fail to cite logging as one of the prime culprits in causing the unnatural fuels buildup in the Sierra, a fact recently confirmed by the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project report. The bill wrongly promotes the view (a(2)) that salvage logging is “necessary throughout these three national forests ... to achieve long-term forest health.” This kind of language is not only ecologically unsound, but is also likely to encourage more salvage riders and “forest health” bills that threaten to weaken, if not eliminate, the environmental laws intended to protect the national forests.

Finally, we understand that the proponents of the bill are seriously considering attaching the bill as a rider to the Interior Appropriations bill, without benefit of any public hearings or debate. Given the importance and controversial nature of the bill, it is inappropriate to truncate the ordinary legislative process. To the contrary, there is clear need for further discussion and amendment in order for the bill to merit wider support.

We recognize that the proposal adopts the Library Group’s suitable land base, which would exempt important roadless areas from logging under the pilot project (but not, it would appear, from logging pursuant to existing management plans). However, the potential adverse environmental impacts outside of these protected zones are still a serious concern.

In sum, we oppose H.R. 4082 in its present form, but we are interested in working with the Quincy Library Group to develop a proposal that merits our support.