House and Senate Give Final Approval to Fatally-Flawed Wildfire Bill
HR 1904 Will Not Protect Homes or Old-Growth Forests, but it Will Limit Public Participation and Increase Commercial Logging
MISSOULA, MT - On Friday afternoon, the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate gave final approval to the The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1904). Despite the claims of its supporters, this misguided wildfire bill leaves homes and communities vulnerable to wildfire, severely limits public participation, undermines the very heart of the National Environmental Policy Act and does not ensure protections for ancient, old-growth forests.
"Congress has handed the Bush Administration its Healthy Forest Initiative - an extreme scheme which does not protect homes from wildfire, but dramatically increases commercial logging on our national forests by limiting public involvement," stated Andrew George, Campaign Coordinator of the National Forest Protection Alliance. "As more old-growth forests and roadless areas are logged under the guise of 'fuel reduction' and homes are left vulnerable to wildfire, this reckless policy will backfire on the Bush Administration."
The bill passed both houses of Congress and now heads to the President for his signature despite the fact that the General Accounting Office has found the very premise of HR 1904 - claims of "analysis paralysis" - to be baseless. In fact, just last month the GAO released a report which found that of 818 Forest Service fuel reduction projects, 97% proceeded without litigation and 95% preceded within the standard 90-day review period. This is the forth-consecutive GAO study to contain similar findings.
"Today's vote clearly shows that some members of Congress and the Bush administration are willing to sacrifice common sense home protection measures and limit citizen participation in order to increase logging on 20 million acres of our National Forests," stated the Native Forest Network's Matthew Koehler. "All around the country the environmental community will be out on-the-ground documenting the abuses that occur from this so-called 'Healthy Forests' bill to show the American people the truth behind Bush's pro-logging agenda and expose the fact that our forests cannot be restored and our communities cannot be protected from wildfire by increasing commercial logging in our national forests."
The Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HR 1904):
* Does NOT effectively protect homes from wildfire. According to a Forest Service analysis, 92% of the land presenting a risk to communities is non-federal land, yet HR 1904 ONLY focuses on federal land. Furthermore, according to Forest Service experts the most effective way to protect a home from wildfire is to focus on the home and its immediate surroundings within 200 feet.
* Limits public participation. While the Bush Administration cries "analysis paralysis," claiming that lawsuits from environmentalists are preventing the Forest Service from reducing fuels, an October 2003 report from the General Accounting Office - the non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress - found that of 818 Forest Service fuel reduction projects, 97% proceeded without litigation. This is the forth-consecutive GAO study to contain similar findings.
* Does NOT ensure protections for ancient, old-growth forests. The bill specifically allows logging of ancient, old-growth forests in the case of of "epidemics of disease or insects" and in cases of windthrow, blowdown and ice storms.
* Undermines the very "heart of NEPA". Under the compromise bill, the Forest Service is not required to consider any alternative other than the agency's proposed action if the project is located within 1 1/2 mile of a community. The courts have called this consideration of alternatives the very "heart of NEPA."