WASHINGTON (AP) — The House approved a wide-ranging public lands bill Thursday that would speed logging of trees burned in last year's massive Rim Fire in California.
The measure also allows vehicular access to North Carolina's Cape Hatteras National Seashore, extends livestock grazing permits on federal land in the West and lifts longstanding restrictions on canoes, rafts and other "hand-propelled" watercraft in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
The House approved the bill, 220-194, on a largely party-line vote. It now goes to the Senate, where it is considered unlikely to pass. The White House opposes the bill but has not issued a veto threat.
The U.S. Forest Service is proposing an extensive salvage operation to log dead trees on about 46 square miles of timberland charred in the fire last August. If approved, logging in the Stanislaus National Forest could yield more lumber than the combined annual output of all the national forests in the state.
A measure sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., would waive federal environmental laws for the salvage operation. Timber sales would raise hundreds millions of dollars that could then be used to replant and restore devastated forests near Yosemite National Park, McClintock said.
"But time is already running out. Within a year, the value of the timber begins to decline rapidly as the wood is devoured by insects and rot," he said. Without his bill, cumbersome environmental reviews and lawsuits that inevitably follow proposed timber sales "will run out the clock on this valuable asset until it becomes worthless," McClintock said.
Environmentalists said so-called salvage logging would destroy critical wildlife habitat for the black-backed woodpecker and other rare birds and hamper ecological recovery in the blackened forest. A hunter's illegal campfire ignited a blaze that covered nearly 400 square miles, the third-largest wildfire in California history.
"Post-fire logging will harm a world-class forest that needs fires, even severe ones, for unique plants and wildlife," said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Geos Institute, an Oregon-based conservation group.
DellaSala was among more than 200 biologists, ecologists and other scientists who sent a letter to Congress urging defeat of McClintock's legislation. The House bill also would overturn a rule by the National Park Service that restricts motorized access to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., would reopen 26 miles of beach now closed to motorized vehicles.
Another measure, sponsored by Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, would accelerate renewals of livestock grazing permits on federal land in the West and extend the permits from 10 to 20 years. Labrador said the measure would help ranchers by cutting red tape and curtailing the need for ranchers to subdivide their land.
The bill also would lift longstanding restrictions on canoes, rafts and other "hand-propelled" vessels in rivers and streams in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., said the measure would allow more paddling access so people can have "a truly unforgettable experience" when they visit the parks.
The park service opposes the proposed changes, saying that existing restrictions allow visitors to experience the solitude and wildness of the parks' pristine waterways without the "intrusion" of watercraft.
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