Recently, the US House Natural Resources Committee passed H.R. 1526, the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” introduced by Rep. Hastings (R-WA)- who is also conveniently the Chairman of the Committee. This bill is similar to Rep. Raul Labrador’s “Self Sufficient Community Lands Act” that was introduced last session and died in committee.
HR 1526 provides a temporary solution to the expiration of the Secure Rural Schools Act (SRS) which was also meant to be a temporary program to “help counties make up for lost revenue and fund services that counties could no longer afford after the decline in timber production during the 1990s.” SRS went into effect in 2000 and originally expired in 2006, only to be “temporarily renewed” three additional times extending to 2012.
HR 1526 says that it will “restore employment and educational opportunities in, and improve the economic stability of, counties containing National Forest System land, while also reducing Forest Service management costs, by ensuring that such counties have a dependable source of revenue from National Forest System land, to provide a temporary extension of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, and for other purposes.”
Essentially the “Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act” would carve out hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest Land to create “Forest Reserve Revenue Areas” as a replacement for the SRS payment program, creating a legally-binding logging mandate with no environmental or fiscal feasibility limits, and reestablish the discredited 24% logging revenue sharing system that was eliminated over a decade ago with the creation of SRS.
The bill will also severely limit public participation and Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. Rep. Hastings bill gives the Secretary of Agriculture sole responsibility for the management of these project areas and grants that office the ability to override any concerns that may exist for any species listed as endangered or threatened by simply writing a “letter of determination”. Additionally the US Forest Service would be required to submit a finding that endangered species are not jeopardized by any project, regardless of its actual effect on the species.
HR 1526 also creates huge loopholes in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For example, any project on less than 10,000 acres (roughly 15-16 square miles) would be exempt from doing an environmental analysis or allowing public input.
So although the title is catchy – it is completely misleading.
Reach out to your Representative NOW and tell them you do NOT support HR 1526.