|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
NOVEMBER 12, 2004
|CONTACT: The Wilderness Society
Funding Bill Threatens Parks, Wilderness, Refuges
WASHINGTON -- November 12 -- The Interior Appropriations funding bill will now be folded, along with other spending measures, into omnibus appropriations bills. They are taking shape now and may be largely decided before the Congress even returns on Monday, Nov. 15 for a post election session.
An earlier version of the Interior Appropriations bill will provide the raw material for the omnibus. Unfortunately, it includes a number of anti-environmental provisions, or "riders." They would damage some of our most treasured public lands and deliberately reduce the opportunity of citizens to participate in land management decisions.
Though the news is mostly bad, there is also a splendid opportunity to help protect the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, a rare temperate-zone rainforest and our largest national forest.
Sen. McCain's Tongass Subsidy Amendment
American taxpayers have not only watched as the Tongass has been picked apart by road building and logging, they've paid for the privilege. The tab extends beyond $750 million over 20 years. In a single year alone, the Forest Service spent $36 million on the Tongass timber program and got back in revenues only $1 million. Subsidies for logging roads account for nearly half of timber program costs annually.
In June, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate the subsidy. Now, Sen. John McCain of Arizona will seek to do the same in the Senate. He will propose an amendment to eliminate the costly subsidy taxpayers give private timber companies to build roads in roadless areas of the Tongass.
Without the repeal, the tab will only grow. Since June when the House repealed the subsidy, the Forest Service has already approved two roadless area timber sales on the Tongass, the Three Mile and the Gravina. (We asked WildAlert subscribers' help in opposing these projects.) By the agency's own numbers, the cost to taxpayers of those two sales will top $11 million. If that's not enough, the Forest Service has plans for another 50 roadless area sales in the next decade.
Destructive Provisions Already in the Senate Bill
As it came out of the Senate committee, the Interior Appropriations bill includes several riders that would deal away the public estate, slam the door on public participation in land management decisions or interfere with the federal judiciary.
Among the riders we're urging senators and representatives to strip from the bill are provisions that would:
Interfere with citizen challenges and judicial review of proposed logging projects in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. This rider would impose a draconian 30-day statute of limitations on legal challenges to timber sales in the Tongass and is an unconscionable interference with the independence of the federal judiciary. It would pressure federal judges to rule within 180 days on lawsuits opposing Tongass timber sales.
End environmental review of grazing permit renewals on public lands. Poorly managed grazing degrades the land, causes water pollution and imperils plant and animal species. At present, the impact of permit renewals must be reviewed under the National Environmental Policy Act. That affords the public its only real opportunity to evaluate grazing impacts, suitability and management. It is also the only opportunity the public has to advocate for grazing management that is safe, sensible and respects all the values of our public lands. This rider would slam the door on that public scrutiny for many grazing allotments on our national forests.
Expedite a land exchange aimed at allowing oil drilling in an Alaska Wildlife Refuge. This rider appears to expedite a land exchange that would give more than 100,000 acres of important wildlife habitat in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the Doyon Corporation, which wants to drill for oil on the land. We say "appears" because the negotiations for this land exchange have been secret. There have been no public meetings or even public notice that would help us know and understand the details of the proposed exchange. Neither have there been any environmental reviews of the proposal. The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which lies immediately south of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, provides habitat for migratory birds, moose, salmon and bears.
Allow commercial fish stocking within wilderness areas in Alaska. This rider would severely weaken protections for wilderness areas in Alaska. Specifically, it would overturn a recent federal court ruling and allow commercial fish hatcheries and stocking, including associated roads and airstrips, in protected wilderness areas in some of most spectacular of our national parks and wildlife refuges in Alaska. Alaska has some of the healthiest, most productive wild salmon fisheries in the world, in part because its protected wilderness watersheds sustain the pristine habitat and clean water salmon need. This rider violates the very premise of wilderness: to preserve wild places where commercial enterprises remain off-limits and species thrive in their natural diversity.
Renew harmful grazing leases in Idaho. This provision seeks to force the renewal of what are now unrenewable leases to graze certain lands in Idaho. The permits are unrenewable precisely because they involve lands that do not produce forage on a sustained, long-term basis. This unfortunate rider would also exempt renewal of these permits from environmental review under NEPA, another attempt to exclude the public from crucial land management decisions. Such a rider was included in last year's Interior appropriations bill. Repeating the mistake will compound degradation of the state's fragile meadows and river ecosystems.
In addition to riders already in earlier versions of the Interior appropriations bill, we expect other anti-environmental provisions to be offered as the Congress shapes the omnibus measures.
Biscuit Logging Amendment. Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon has announced that he may offer an amendment to override existing law and push the largest public lands logging project in modern history: the post-fire Biscuit logging project on Oregon's Siskiyou National Forest.
At least 12 million board feet of timber have already been removed from the burned area and several other timber sales are moving forward. But federal courts have imposed an injunction on six sales in the ancient forest reserves. The injunction is an indication that the courts may rule these sales illegal. Sen. Smith's rider would lift the injunction and declare that the entire Biscuit plan satisfies all applicable laws.
Cumberland Island National Seashore. Only the Congress can designate wilderness, and only the Congress can remove that protection. Never has it done so in a unit of the National Park System. But now, as the rest of America celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, some members of Georgia's congressional delegation are asking precisely that.
Future Generations or Profit Generation?
Congress should pass an FY 2005 Interior appropriations bill that protects our parks, wildlife, forests and other public lands for future generations. Sadly, this bill is shaping up to be something else entirely: a hodge-podge of special interest provisions that ignore the health of our public lands.
We are asking our elected representatives to strongly support Sen. McCain's Tongass subsidy amendment, or the already passed House language, and to vigorously oppose damaging provisions already in the bill along with any additional anti-environmental riders that may be offered during floor debate.
The only remedy is to strip the dangerous riders that are already part of the bill and block attempts to add others. Failing that, we are asking our representatives to oppose the appropriations measure in its entirety.