U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, is chiming in on the blame-game regarding the massive forest fires in California — but his comments aren’t sitting well with some logging experts.
Leahy was chairman of the committee when he oversaw the 1990 Farm Bill, which included massive revisions to national forestry laws. The bill is getting updated again but has been tangled up over its forestry management revisions.
Daniel Dructor, executive vice president of the American Loggers Council, says the House version of the bill has the desired components to allow greater forest management policies. He said it’s a big contrast from the Senate version, which “basically does nothing.”
He added that it’s the Senate minority that is holding up the bill over the House’s provisions, and Leahy is among that effort.
In a recent press release, Leahy blasted the forestry provisions.
“It is outrageous that House Republicans and the Trump administration are continuing to hold up the Farm Bill negotiations over harmful and extreme forestry provisions,” Leahy said.
“Secretaries Perdue and Zinke [Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke] shockingly are trying to co-opt the terrible tragedies in California to push for the Trump Administration’s crass, cynical, and unaccountable logging of the public’s national forests,” he continued.
President Donald Trump and his opponents have been engaged in a back-and-forth over who’s to blame for California’s wildfires. Trump is calling for the Interior Department and the Forest Service to have new authority to clear out dead trees and brush, which according to Dructor, is a primary culprit.
Leahy argues that “historic fire prevention tools” were implemented in March via the Appropriations Committee as part of the Fiscal Year 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act. He says that bill allows for “expedited forest management practices and fuels reduction work on wildfire-prone forests.”
“Instead of pushing for these extremely partisan provisions on behalf of a small minority in the timber lobby, House Republicans and the Administration should be joining the Senate Farm Bill conferees to discuss bipartisan forestry solutions. That is how the Forestry Title has always worked, going back to the very first one I authored in the 1990 Farm Bill,” Leahy said.
Leahy urges Perdue and Zinke to use these existing prevention tools rather than pointing to the recent California wildfires to justify “additional extreme logging authority.”
But Dructor said this is all too much politics and not enough action.
“I know there are some political games that are going on in Washington, D.C., and folks are saying the fires are caused by climate change, and other folks are saying it’s being caused by mismanagement of the forests, when in fact it’s probably a combination of both.”
He added that he found Leahy’s comments out of touch with the realities faced by Californians.
“I’m having a hard time understanding how somebody from Vermont can determine what’s best for our western federal forest lands,” Dructor said. “I think if the fires had happened in his state and his communities like they have in California, then perhaps you would think he might have a different take on it.”
Regarding forest management, he said it’s not just at the forest floor and brush level that needs clearing, but also the tree crown level. He said if the fire gets up there and there is no separation between trees, the fire will jump from tree to tree, as happened in the recent California fires.
“If your crowns are too close then the fire just jumps from crown to crown and there’s hardly any stopping it until something causes it to come back down,” he said. “Science has proven it over and over again — what causes it to come down, it’s when those crowns aren’t touching each other.”
Dructor said politicians need to stop bickering and listen to the professionals.
“I’m a forester by degree and I was trained to manage forests,” he said. “We’ve allowed folks who know nothing about forestry to come in and say this is how we should be managing the forests, which in a lot of the cases is no management at all.”