Rural American jobs threatened by Obama forest plan

Afraid that a new plan by the U.S. Forest Service will wreak economic havoc on timber-dependent rural communities, lawmakers from both political parties are expressing their displeasure with the Obama administration initiative.

At issue is a sweeping so-called “planning rule” that would guide land-use decision on 198 million acres of federal forests and grasslands across the country. Released in February as a proposed rule, the plan has come under a barrage of criticism for emphasizing species preservation and climate change over the well-being of rural Americans.

According to Greenwire (May 5, 2011), Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on conservation, energy, and forestry, the Forest Service in engaging in “mission creep” by requiring the cataloguing of invertebrate species and incorporation climate change language in the planning rule. Thompson fears this will unleash litigation that will tie up the Forest Service for years.

Thompson’s colleague, Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) went even further saying the agency is morphing into a hybrid of the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “The original mission of the Forest Service has been lost,” he told a congressional hearing, according to Greenwire. “The law requires species diversity, not viability.”

Indeed, the planning rule’s language is an open invitation to regulatory mischief and litigation. For example, Forest Service bureaucrats are supposed to use the “best available science” in making their determinations. But the term “best available science” is left conveniently undefined. Similarly, forests are to be managed according to the “resilience to climate change,” but neither “resilience” nor “climate change” is defined or explained.

The draft plan is being overseen by Harris Sherman, undersecretary of agriculture for natural resources and the environment. Sherman insists that the planning rule takes timber sales into consideration, but his background and close ties to environmental groups raise serious questions. Before joining the Obama administration, he served as Director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, where he was instrumental in drafting the state’s controversial roadless rule. Furthermore, according to his bio on the Department of Agriculture’s website, he has worked for years on land conservation issues with such groups as the Nature Conservancy, Colorado Open Lands, and the Trust for Public Lands.

None of this is going down well with rural lawmakers from districts with National Forests, who fear for the livelihood of their constituents. “Why in the world would Wisconsin be importing timber from Canada rather than harvesting timber that is rotting in our National Forests?” asks Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wisconsin) (Greenwire, May, 5).

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.