October 24, 2023
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
Senator Mike Lee
Dear Chair Cortez Masto and Ranking Member Lee:
We write to express our deep concerns about S. 2867, the Promoting Effective Forest Management Act of 2023, S. 2991, America’s Revegetation and Carbon Sequestration Act of 2023, and S. 1719, FIRESHEDS Act. We ask you to oppose these pieces of legislation for the reasons discussed below.
S. 2867- Promoting Effective Forest Management Act
Rather than facilitating science-based forest restoration and stewardship, S. 2867 instead doubles-down on failed forest management policies and procedures. While some of the draft provisions may have merit, others are unnecessary, duplicative of existing authorities, or will actively cause ecosystem harm. Until substantial changes are made to the legislation, we urge you to oppose S.2867.
Title I, Accomplishments Over Rhetoric, Section 101 (“Thinning Targets”) requires the federal land management agencies1 to determine annual acreage targets for mechanical precommercial and commercial thinning, accomplish those acres, and then to double and then quadruple the number of acres logged through fiscal year 2027. The federal land management agencies already establish annual acreage targets, although accomplishment is based on available funding and staffing, factors that are not addressed in the legislation. Furthermore, acreage targets do not provide an accurate depiction of whether the highest priority acres are treated, or whether treatments are ecologically appropriate or effective in protecting communities. The term “thinning” has no consistent definition and often involves felling and removal of older forests and trees that can harm the environment.
Additionally, there are other important metrics that should be used to determine forest management goals including impacts to climate and water quality. This section should be removed from the final bill.
Title I, Accomplishments Over Rhetoric, Section 102 (“Annual Reports”) requires the federal land management agencies1The legislation exempts from its application the Oregon and California Lands, 2.6 million acres of forested lands managed for multiple uses by the Bureau of Land Management in western Oregon. Sec. 2(2)(B). to report numerous aspects of federal forest management. Because the agencies already collect and report this information to Congress, this section is unnecessary and duplicative of existing law, and will cause confusion and delay within the reporting agencies. This section should be removed from the final bill.
Title I, Accomplishments Over Rhetoric, Section 103 (“Transparency in Fire Mitigation Reporting”) requires the agencies to report acres treated to Congress and precludes “double-counting” acres that have not yet received their final treatment as completed. While we support the intent of precluding double-counting of acres, we do not support only reporting outputs (i.e., acres treated) as opposed to outcomes (i.e., whether watershed function has improved).
Title I, Accomplishments Over Rhetoric, Section 104 (“Regional Carbon Accounting”) requires the federal agencies to determine whether federal forests are carbon sources or sinks. We support this provision.
Title I, Accomplishments Over Rhetoric, Section 105 (“Targets for Wildlife Habitat Improvement”) requires the federal agencies to determine whether the agencies are meeting the goals and objectives for wildlife habitat contained in existing land management plans and establish targets for wildlife habitat improvement and a strategy to meet those targets. While we generally support efforts to identify where improvements are needed to benefit rare species, this provision will be counterproductive. Actions taken for the benefit of one species will often be to the detriment of others. Deciding where to act (and how much action is possible, responsibly, within budget limitations) is a decision that should be left to local officials implementing the forest plan without a thumb on the scale for a subset of species or habitat types. Instead, increasing budgets for wildlife recovery would be the best solution to increase the pace of wildlife recovery.
Title II, Forest Management, Section 201 (“Land and Resource Management Plans”) requires the Comptroller General of the United States to report on the time necessary for the Forest Service to complete the forest plan revision process required by the National Forest Management Act, versus the time it would take for the Forest Service to complete the planning process under the provisions of law applicable to the National Park Service. This section is vague and its requirements would be impossible for the Comptroller to accurately assess: it does not identify which procedures or laws applicable to the National Park Service are considered superior and fails to recognize that the National Park Service and Forest Service have different statutory schemes and congressional intent. This section should be rectified or removed in the final bill.
Title II, Forest Management, Section 202 (“Management of Old Growth and Mature Forests”) would harm efforts to protect the nation’s mature and old-growth forests and trees. The land management agencies are in the process of implementing Executive Order 14072, Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, which requires the agencies to develop policies to conserve “mature” and “old growth” forests. Section 202 would undermine this effort by needlessly adding additional layers of complexity to developing protective regulations. More importantly, section 202 undermines the goals of the EO by directing the Forest Service to focus logging activity on “mature forests,” which, under the section’s definition, would include all forests older than the culmination of mean annual increment. Further encouraging the agencies to log these forests would have disastrous ecological and climate impacts as they are some of the most biodiverse and carbon- rich forests managed by the federal agencies. Mature trees are also generally more fire resistant, and the harvest of these forests is highly publicly controversial. In essence, section 202 does nothing to protect the nation’s climate-critical mature forests, rather it encourages the federal forest agencies to continue logging them. This section is ecologically and socially problematic and should be removed from the final bill.
Title II, Forest Management, Section 203 (“Assessment of Process-Based Restoration Techniques”) requires the land management agencies to establish a pilot program to evaluate process-based aquatic restoration techniques on the experimental forests and ranges managed by the Forest Service. Natural climate solutions, such as beaver restoration to increase water storage capacity on the national forests, are worthwhile restoration tools, and we support this section.
Title II, Forest Management, Section 204 (“Intervenor Status”) allows local governments to intervene as of right in civil litigation challenging wildfire risk reduction actions or revenue-generating timber projects on the federal lands. This section is unnecessary because all governments already have the ability to intervene in such litigation, and there is no evidence that governments have been unable to participate in litigation under the status quo. This section should be removed from the final bill.
Title II, Forest Management, Section 205 (“Utilizing Grazing for Wildfire Prevention”) requires the land management agencies to develop a strategy to increase grazing on federal lands to reduce wildfire risk. This provision is inconsistent with the best available science that demonstrates that grazing can increase wildfire risk and hazard2https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10530-019-02120-8. Livestock grazing exacerbates the introduction and spread of invasive species such as cheatgrass that increase fire severity and spread. Livestock grazing in dry southwestern forests has been shown to sharply increase the density of small trees that fuel crown fires by removing native grasses that otherwise compete with those trees. This section should be removed from the final bill.
Title III, Workforce, Section 301 (“Logging Workforce”) creates a training program to encourage entrance into the forest products (i.e., “logging”) workforce, and a loan program to facilitate the purchase of new logging equipment. This section is unnecessary: private industry (and public land grant universities) already provide training for the forest products industry, and it is not appropriate for public funds appropriated through Congress to facilitate or subsidize this private industry and equipment acquisition. This section should be removed from the final bill.
Title III, Workforce, Section 302 (“Break-In-Service Consideration for Fire-Fighter Retirements”) requires the Secretary of Labor to promulgate regulations to ensure that wildland firefighters who take a voluntary break in service of not more than 9 months do not forfeit their retirement. We support this provision: currently, wildland firefighters identifying as female in particular have been penalized with the loss of their retirement for taking maternity or family leave. This provision ensures equitable treatment for caregivers and should be retained in the final bill.
Title IV, Cultural Change in Agencies, Section 401 (“Mandatory Use of Existing Authorities”) requires the federal agencies to use existing statutory categorical exclusions. This section is unnecessary because the Forest Service is already using these authorities across the National Forest System. In many instances, use of CEs is inappropriate, fails to publicly disclose environmental effects, and can cause adverse environmental impacts. Given that the BLM does not maintain a significant forest management program on its lands outside of the Oregon and California lands (which are exempted from the legislation), the language is surplusage. This provision should be removed from the final bill.
Title IV, Cultural Change in Agencies, Section 402 (“Curtailing Employee Relocations”) requires the Forest Service to curtail employee relocations, encourage the external hiring of line officers, and limits Forest Service reimbursement of employee relocation costs. While we support the intent of this section, it should be improved and clarified in the final bill. In particular, the section only applies to “line officers” and not other agency personnel that are essential to mission critical work and should preclude the reimbursement of relocation expenses for employees that transfer duty stations more than once every 3 years. We support incentivizing the recruitment and retention of well-qualified agency personnel and would recommend additional methods to do so for inclusion in the final bill.
In sum, S. 4904 is rushed legislation with many ill-considered concepts and proposals that can result in environmental degradation of public forests, watersheds, wildlife, and communities. As such, it should be opposed unless and until significant changes are made.
S. 2991- America’s Revegetation and Carbon Sequestration Act
The undersigned organizations appreciate the sponsors’ recognition of the need to take a proactive approach to climate adaptation on our federal lands. Doing so is an opportunity to: conserve native ecosystems and restore biodiversity, for instance, by protecting climate refugia, habitat for native- especially imperiled species, and corridors; restore ecosystem services such as aquifer recharge and erosion control; upscale the availability and use of locally adapted native plants and seeds in restoration endeavors; and eradicate invasive species. Legislation intent on confronting the climate crisis would benefit from direction to protect old growth and mature forests, which is among the most effective ways to store and sequester carbon and conserve forest biodiversity.
We support establishing a more robust, intentional, and coordinated effort to address two very serious problems: 1) invasive plants and the damage that they are wreaking on our public lands across the west, and 2) the insufficient supply of seeds from native plants that is a major barrier to ecological restoration and other revegetation projects across the United States and especially our federal lands. Relative to these topics, the bill would benefit from a more explicit focus on restoring native ecosystems (as opposed to cover) which is more likely to result in sustainable and naturally biodiverse landscapes able to withstand perturbations and stresses. Further, while the bill addresses the supply of tree seeds, it completely neglects the supply of non-tree seeds that are needed to combat invasive grasses and restore resilient grasslands, shrublands, and savannas. To remedy this, a section should be added to the bill that provides for federal coordination and leadership and necessary investments for building a significantly more robust (non-tree) native seed supply and industry as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in its 2023 report entitled “An Assessment of Native Seed Needs and the Capacity for Their Supply: Final Report.”3https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2023/01/supply-of-native-seeds-insufficient-to-meet-the-needs-of- current-and-future-ecological-restoration-projects-says-new-report Necessary investments includes increasing federal agency expertise in botany and ecological restoration and warehouse space and staff, all of which is cited by the National Academy as current barriers to implementing successful projects. Our organizations have concerns with Sections 201 and 404. The Forest Service should not be empowered and encouraged to sell carbon offsets from federal lands. From a forest management perspective, offsets are a tool to motivate private landowners who do not otherwise have a legal mandate to manage their lands for public benefit.
The federal government should be managing forests for both optimal sequestration and adaptation as a matter of policy. These activities should be fully funded through the regular budget process, not through private markets. Furthermore, credits from the large federal land base could depress prices in the offset market and thus reduce their effectiveness in motivating private landowners from undertaking management actions that sequester more carbon.
Another major concern is that mechanical thinning and prescribed fire treatments needed for restoring dry forests to a more resilient condition often result in net CO2 emissions for decades or longer. Offset protocols correctly require proof of net sequestration at the time of verification and cannot rely on the supposition that a near term carbon debt will be reversed in later decades. Thus, the tool of offset markets is inappropriate for funding forest health treatments both from a budget policy and biological perspective. It’s also not clear how this initiative would dovetail with land management planning. We recommend removing these sections.
Finally, we suggest that Section 103 be expanded to authorize a more robust Research Natural Areas (RNA) network as well as the Experimental Forest network, both of which will be critical to enhancing our understanding and education efforts related to climate change and biodiversity loss. The RNA system is one of the great land management ideas of the last many decades that has unfortunately been allowed to languish. In authorizing the RNA system, the bill should incorporate the RNA purposes articulated in FSM 4060, the RNA system objectives at FSM 4063.02 and the management and protection standards at FSM 4063.3. While experimental forests allow for experimentation, RNAs serve as controls and protected examples for every ecosystem type within the National Forest System, and together they enhance our long-term understanding of climate impacts and resiliency on ecosystems and species.
S. 1719, FIRESHEDS Act
The undersigned organizations oppose S. 1719. This legislation, introduced by Senator Risch, would undermine NEPA by creating a new legislative categorical exclusion for a broad range of forest management activities—including salvage logging—with no specified size limit. It would also restrict normal judicial review procedures, such as by prohibiting courts from imposing preliminary injunctions in cases involving forest management activities within the wildland-urban interface. In addition, the bill would allow these activities to occur within Inventoried Roadless Areas so long as the activities are allowed by the Forest Service’s local land management plan.
Our groups thank you for your attention to these important issues and look forward to working with the Committee to improve these bills. We appreciate your consideration of our recommendations.
Defenders of Wildlife
Southern Environmental Law Center
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Alaska Wilderness League
New Jersey Highlands Coalition
Friends of Douglas-fir National Monument
NJ Forest Watch
Yaak Valley Forest Council
NAACP Maryland State Conference, Environmental and Climate Justice Committee
Natural Resources Law
Sierra Club | Hoosier Chapter
New Mexico Wild
Los Padres ForestWatch
University of the South
San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Idaho Conservation League
Gallatin Wildlife Association
South Umpqua Rural Community Partnership
Thurston Climate Action Team, Tree Action Group
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Western Watersheds Project
Friends of Big Ivy
I Heart Pisgah
Friends of the Wild Swan
Green Cove Defense Committee
Old-Growth Forest Network
Massachusetts Forest Watch
Klamath Forest Alliance
Climate Communications Coalition
Soda Mountain Wilderness Council
Endangered Species Coalition
Umpqua Natural Leadership
Friends of the Bitterroot
New Mexico Sportsmen
Rio Grande Indivisible, NM
Environmental Protection Information Center- EPIC
Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Cascade-Volcanoes Chapter
Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
American Bird Conservancy
Ohio Environmental Council
Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE)
Williams Community Forest Project
- 1The legislation exempts from its application the Oregon and California Lands, 2.6 million acres of forested lands managed for multiple uses by the Bureau of Land Management in western Oregon. Sec. 2(2)(B).
- 3https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2023/01/supply-of-native-seeds-insufficient-to-meet-the-needs-of- current-and-future-ecological-restoration-projects-says-new-report