Stated purpose: “...to expedite salvage [logging] and reforestation projects in the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area and other National Scenic Areas…”
Actual purpose: Suspending, in perpetuity, environmental protection laws, avoiding accountability, and restricting the rights of US citizens, in order to fast-track clearcut logging of National Scenic Areas recovering from any fire, snow, high water, wind or other natural event, regardless of severity.
Key aspects of Walden’s Columbia Gorge Clearcut Act:
1. Forces the Secretary of Agriculture to rush post-fire “salvage” logging projects to conclusion within National Scenic Areas with reduced or eliminated environmental analysis and protections for endangered species. Such projects typically involve clearcutting both live and dead trees, and re-planting only species of commercial value to logging interests. Makes no mention of genuine restoration (stabilizing roads and trails, preventing erosion, protecting drinking water, etc…)
2. Makes no mention of climate change, and requires no consideration of how logging in areas recovering from fire could affect carbon and climate. It does nothing to address the reality that climate change will lead to hotter, drier summers and longer fire seasons.
3. To justify post fire logging, Walden utilizes the term “catastrophic events” and “natural disaster” to describe fire, snow, high water, wind, and other natural processes with no differentiation between severity or actual effect on the land. As has been well established by decades of science, including the spectacular recovery of Yellowstone National Park after the 1988 fire, many of these processes are beneficial and desirable for maintaining the health of public lands.
4. Specifically targets National Scenic Areas (including the Columbia Gorge) for post-fire logging, which typically includes clearcutting, of areas up to 10,000 acres in size.
5. Rush to log. Requires the Secretary of Agriculture to propose “response activities” in National Scenic Areas within 30 days after the “conclusion” of fire, snow, high water, wind, or other events for lands “adversely impacted” by such events. Provides no definition of the terms “response activities,” or “adversely impacted” (though in context response clearly means commercial logging). Secretary would be legally required to propose logging within 30 days after the “conclusion” of an event, regardless of how much information is available on the effects of a given event.
6. Reduce or eliminate public review and input. Exempts post-fire logging in National Scenic Areas from traditional public input requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act. No requirement for agencies to meaningfully consider public input or objections, or to modify projects based on public objections.
7. Rushed or no environmental review. Allows the Secretary of Agriculture to utilize a “categorical exclusion” to avoid environmental analysis of the effects of any post-fire (or other event) logging project up to 10,000 acres in size inside a National Scenic Area that meets certain criteria. If they do not meet those criteria, environmental analysis must be completed within 60 days after the “conclusion” of fire, snow, high water, wind, or other “catastrophic” events or the logging may proceed regardless.
8. Eliminates endangered species protections. Allows the Secretary to “self-consult” on whether post-fire logging may harm salmon or other endangered species. No further scientific review is required. If the Secretary deems it necessary to consult with salmon or wildlife biologists, such consultation must be complete within 90 days of the request being made. If it is not, the logging is deemed to have no impact on endangered species. Unlikely such consultation would be complete in time for the public to consider it during the small comment and objection period. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service waive their rights to consult if the process takes more than 90 days.
9. Limits the public’s legal rights. In cases where citizens challenge post-fire logging projects, including clearcutting, in National Scenic Areas HR 3715 specifically prohibits judges from granting restraining orders and injunctions to stop logging projects should they deem them likely to violate the law. It restricts the right of Americans to challenge their own government, and prioritizes rushing commercial logging projects over the conservation in National Scenic Areas.
10. Requires the Secretary of Agriculture to have “reforested” at least 75% of “impacted” lands within 2 years. No definition of “impacted,” no exception for areas that burned lightly or not at all, no requirements regarding native species use in planting, and no consideration of the impacts such actions would have on wildlife that utilize snags and dead wood. This provision would convert diverse, native forest in National Scenic Areas into industrial logging plantations.