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WASHINGTON -- If U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman's legislation passes, it'll be easier to cut down trees in the nation's forests and harder for critics and federal courts to slow the process.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, which Westerman introduced late Tuesday, is backed by the timber industry and House Republican leadership, but opposed by a long list of environmental groups.

If passed, it would eliminate the need for lengthy federal environmental assessments in many instances, allowing projects to move forward in months that might otherwise have taken years.

Forest management plans covering fewer than 10,000 acres -- roughly 16 square miles -- would be exempt from the lengthier studies. Plans covering up to 30,000 acres could be fast-tracked if they were developed in collaboration with area stakeholders.

Anyone opposing the plan would be able to sue, but their legal options would be restricted.

Judges would no longer be allowed to issue restraining orders or preliminary injunctions to halt salvage operations or reforestation efforts in the wake of large fires or some other "large-scale catastrophic event."

When the plan is in response to a catastrophic event, the timeline for public comment would be shortened.

Environmentalists who successfully sued would no longer be able to recover attorneys fees for "forest management activity challenges," the law states.

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Westerman, a Hot Springs Republican who represents all of southwestern Arkansas, introduced similar legislation in 2015. It quickly passed in the House but faced opposition from the White House and stalled in the Senate.

This time, the measure is again on the fast track. The House Natural Resources Committee is scheduled to take up the legislation today. A committee vote is likely next week.

"The goal is to have it on the [House] floor before the August recess [and then] get it over to the Senate," Westerman said. "I think the White House will be pushing for this."

In 2015, 10.1 million acres of forestland were destroyed, Westerman said, attributing the devastation to problems with the current system.

"The data shows that the forests are being harmed and the harm is coming from a lack of management. When you go back up the decision tree on why there's a lack of management, it's because the management gets stopped in court," he said in an interview Wednesday.

The American Forest and Paper Association, an industry group, supports the legislation.

"AF&PA applauds Congressman Westerman's leadership in offering the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 to improve the forest management practices which would enable our nation's forests to remain healthy and sustainable," said association President and CEO Donna Harman.

But Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns for the Wilderness Society, said Westerman's bill is a step backward.

"We see it as fundamentally undermining the laws that protect our national forests, jeopardizing citizen involvement in the management of our national forests and threatening the values that many Americans care about with regards to our national forests."

Business on 06/22/2017

Print Headline: Westerman pushes bill to grease wheels on cutting in forests

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Archived Comments

  • baskethilt
    June 22, 2017 at 10:24 a.m.

    This proposed national forest legislation is a disaster and Westerman has done a disservice to the public for the benefit of the commercial forestry industry and the bureaucrats they have influenced. Westerman's legislation is in conflict with the spirit and the letter of the National Forestry Act, which Senator Dale Bumpers and others worked so hard to enact for the benefit of the public in the 1970s, so that we could have a say in the management of our national forests in accordance with the multiple use purpose of our national forests with the managers to be held accountable, rather than our national forests to be used as tree farms for the commercial tree choppers, as they see fit, while they reap profits at the expense of "We, the people", who pay for our forests.
    And this man is a professional forester??????????? He acts like a pawn for the tree choppers.

    Has Westerman ever heard of Aldo Leopold or bothered to read Sand County Almanac so that he could develop some respect for the land and its wise use? Westerman's idea of "healthy and sustainable " is to grow trees like corn for harvest, to heck with wildlife, recreation, water quality and the other statutory uses of out national forests. Do people of this state care anything about the Ozark-St. Francis or the Ouachita National Forests? Apparently not.

    Sadly, our congressional delegation has rolled over and played dead without a whimper, except to support Westerman"s effort. I guess the so-called "natural state" crowd does not care and so looks the other way. Pitiful!!!!!!!!!!!! After the BNR Hog farm fiasco, what can you expect from the governor and the state bunch? Nothing. The timber industry has a death grip on this state.

    What a shame. How convenient it is for the timber industry to have its own congressman representing its interests at the expense of the taxpayers and to their detriment.

    Life goes on in Arkansas.

  • mrcharles
    June 22, 2017 at 3:12 p.m.

    Trees get in the way of my view of wal mart parking lots and coal plants.

    Remember it is about jobs. No clean air and no clean water gives many opportunities for jobs , not in the lease in the high paying medical field where if you are rich you live, and under the gop plans to help out the funeral industry, if you cant afford it you just die.

    What do you want to do , Live forever!

    basket you are barking up a tree. the powers that be will strip mine the world till we will look like mars. In every aspect , this gop will destroy life as we know it.

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