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"This story of 'us' consuming our way to oblivion, with the oil companies innocently fulfilling 'our' insatiable greed for fuel, is just a lie."
Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking bad, better, good, and great environmental news in the Trump era.
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Under the guise of “cutting red tape,” the US Forest Service is moving to finalize rules that will cut the public out 9 in 10 timber sales on public land.
The agency says the changes will help it to speed up prescribed burning and thinning, to lower the risks of extreme wildfires on over 50 million acres of federal forests.
“But that’s only part of the picture,” notes KQED. “In 2018, President Donald Trump issued an executive order that encouraged federal agencies to ease environmental review for industrial operations on federal land.”
A 34-year Forest Service veteran sees “smoke and mirrors” in the rule changes”
“Buried deep within 16 pages of legalese are some nasty surprises: a nearly unlimited license to commercially log nearly seven square miles — about 3,000 football fields — or build five miles of logging roads at a time without involving the public or disclosing environmental consequences,” writes Jim Furnish in the Washington Post’s opinion section. “The Forest Service’s road-building system is still flawed, and forest road impacts are long-lasting and often severe. So it’s irresponsible to propose constructing hundreds more miles of national forest roads without public input or environmental review of the potential consequences.”
This kind of development would affect areas that many assume are fully safe from development. “Miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through roadless areas, as does the Pacific Crest Trail and many hiking areas in Utah’s High Uintas Mountains in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest,” notes a land conservation expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts. “More than half of the 16.8 million-acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska is protected under the roadless rule.”
If the changes are finalized, “watchdog groups say the policy could mean a tourist returning to a favorite mountain cabin and finding the balcony view sheared of its trees,” reports The Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Or scenery surrounding favorite campsites and hiking trails bulldozed to hang power lines. Or new roads cut through wildlife habitats, so trees as old as the country can be carried off on flatbeds.”
If this issue sounds familiar, it’s because the timber industry and its allies have been bringing this fight in varied guises since 2001, when the Forest Service established its “roadless rule” to protect fully undeveloped swaths of federal forest for old growth wildlife habitat, as well as vehicle-free camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing. “Alaska wants to release 9 million acres in the Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from the rule, which would be the largest exemption in the country, according to Natalie Dawson, executive director of Audubon Alaska,” reports High Country News, even though “at roughly 17 million acres, the Tongass is the world’s largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest and refuge for some of the world’s oldest trees.”
analysis of bad
The Trump administration’s avid rollback agenda has brought sharp focus to a seldom-examined tension within US environmental policy: The federal agencies tasked with protecting nature are also, often, the same ones tasked with leasing it to resource extraction industries for profit.
The Department of Interior, for instance, contains the National Park Service; the Fish and Wildlife Service (which implements the Endangered Species Act for land-based species); the Bureau of Land Management, which leases mining and drilling on federal lands; and the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which both oversees safety and environmental standards at coal mines, and post-mining restoration of the land to something like a natural condition.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is in charge of saving endangered marine species and their habitats, is part of the Department of Commerce; and the US Forest Service, which manages 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands, is part of the Department of Agriculture.
In the best of times, neither advocates for conservation nor extraction industries get everything they want. Under Obama, oil and gas fracking on public lands expanded, but the boundaries of protected lands and waters did, too. That administration did not deny that with climate change underway, forests and other wilderness are becoming a lot more valuable as sanctuaries for biodiversity, climate-stabilizing carbon sinks, air and water cycling, and sanity-saving open and wild space, than they are as short-term sources of minerals or timber.
From that standpoint, the Trump era defines “the worst of times.” Under this president’s transactional and reality-averse mindset, forests, prairies, grasslands, and wild waters are as valuable as any given day’s prices for oil and gas, fish and logs.
The Forest Service has felt enough heat on this rule change to extend the deadline for public reaction and response to August 26. The Federal Register has all the details on how to submit comments.
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Some in Congress are publicly bucking the Trump administration’s conservation rollbacks. Since Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan 12) and John Fortenberry (R-Nebraska 1) reintroduced the “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” in mid-July, 98 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill would “provide $1.4 billion in federal funding to state wildlife agencies and tribal organizations to spend on ‘species of greatest conservation need.’ those are ones endangered or headed that way,” reports Pennsylvania’s TribLive.
A sampling of recent conservation news coming out of the states:
In Virginia, state agencies and The Nature Conservancy have teamed up to protect 22,856 acres of forest just east of the Kentucky border, the “largest open space easement ever recorded in the Commonwealth,” reports WCYB News 5.
In New England, a team of researchers have busted the “jobs vs environment” argument. Looking at “six states from Connecticut to Maine [that] have protected more than 5 million acres of land, creating a unique natural experiment in conservation,” they found that “saving land can also help local economies. Over those 25 years, land conservation moderately increased local employment numbers and the labor force, without reducing new housing permits.” The Conversation has the story.
Michigan cherry farmers who have switched from poisoning crop pests to installing nest boxes for kestrals (a bird of prey struggling to survive in recent decades) to have staved off $2.2 million a year in crop losses, reports Environmental Health News. “Unlike balloons or loud noises, kestrels are a genuine threat whose mere presence is enough to scare off pest bird flocks, said cherry grower Jim Nugent, who installed a nest box on his roughly 40-acre Suttons Bay, Michigan, orchard in the mid-90s. It has been occupied almost every year since.”
In California, a public-private partnership is finalizing plans for a groundbreaking wildlife crossing over US Highway 101. “It will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet (61 meters) above 10 lanes of busy highway and a feeder road just 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of downtown L.A.,” reports AP.
As I reported for TakePart back in 2015, when this project was first proposed, “the crossing will allow more mountain lions to move safely out of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to the much vaster contiguous wildlands to the east in Los Padres National Forest.”
Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.
This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist, and a graduate of the Tow-Knight Center Entrepreneurial Journalism fellowship.
You’ll find links to my other work and more biographical goodness at my website, emilygertz.com
Please send tips and suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s quote is by Amy Westervelt, from her new Popula piece “The Case for Climate Rage.” This essay explains why I opt not to include consumer and lifestyle tips on “what you can do to stop climate change” in this newsletter. I hope you’ll read it.
Reminder/full disclosure: I am a contributor to Amy Westervelt’s Drilled podcast.