A Dereliction of Duty
In May of 2017, Trump released his proposed federal budget for 2018. Included in his proposal was a $300 million cut to The U.S. Forest Service budget for wildfire fighting programs, another $50 million in cuts to wildfire prevention efforts, and a 23% reduction to funding for volunteer fire departments.
On June 20th, the Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2936) was introduced to the House. The bill, co-authored by Congressman Tom McClintock (CA-04) includes no additional funding for the Forest Service. Instead, it opens up federal lands to ranchers and lumber companies, providing them with "categorical exclusions" from regulations that would scale back public input, reduce wildlife habitat protections, and weaken environmental standards. It would also eliminate any requirement to protect old growth forests, and allow for clear-cutting in projects of up to 10,000 acres. If passed, a timber company could log an area up to 30,000 acres with minimal environmental review.
Put simply, instead of funding the Forest Service whose job it is to maintain our federal forests, working closely with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts, the bill would outsource the work to lumber companies and ranchers, trusting them to do what's best for the forest instead of what's best for their profit margins.
We have a pretty good idea of what this will look like. Below is a time-lapse video showing how different regions of our congressional district have been affected by logging from 1984 to 2016:
The bill would also open federal lands to salvage logging after a fire under the guise of preventing future fires. In reality, severely-burned trees are unlikely to burn again, and their decomposition provides critical nutrients needed for a forest to recover from fire. Salvage logging also wreaks havoc on the land, leaving it susceptible to erosion:
Throughout all of this, the Forest Service has been vocal in expressing the need for additional funding to prevent wildfire:
In July, the Detwiler Fire raged across Mariposa County, burning 81,826 acres and destroying 63 homes. It is critical to note that this fire was fueled by dry grass and brush, not pine trees. McClintock's Resilient Federal Forests Act would have done nothing to prevent this fire. As our District was burning, McClintock was largely missing in action, and would only make a brief appearance for a photo-op seven days after the fire started.
In October, a group of fires devastated wine country, burning 103,000 acres and destroying more than 10,000 homes, killing at least 44 people. As with the Detwiler fire, these fires were fueled by dry grass and brush. Again, because there were no pine trees involved, McClintock's Resilient Federal Forests Act would have done nothing to prevent this fire.
Throughout the month of December, the Thomas Fire raged across Southern California, killing a firefighter and one civilian. It destroyed 1,063 structures and burned 281,893 acres, making it the largest wildfire in California history. In January, heavy rain in areas affected by the fire would trigger mudslides, claiming more 20 lives. As with previous fires, the Thomas Fire was fueled by dry grass and brush, so McClintock's Resilient Federal Forests Act would have done nothing to prevent this fire.
Last September, a bipartisan group of 10 senators wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer calling attention to the annual budget crisis faced by our U.S. Forest Service. In their letter, they requested that a fix be implemented to secure funding for fire prevention.
Yesterday, Congress reached a budget deal that includes a massive increase in military spending. This increase comes on the heels of another enormous boost to defense spending in 2017:
- 2016: $580 billion
- 2017: $696 billion
- 2018: $700 billion
- 2019: $716 billion
However, the budget did not allocate any increase in funding for the Forest Service. In fact, the 2018 Forest Service budget is $4.73 billion, a decrease of $938 million from 2017.
2017 was the U.S. Forest Service's most expensive fire season yet. The cost of battling blaze after ever-bigger blaze across the country topped $2.4 billion in 2017. Two decades ago, the cost of fighting fires only consumed about 15% of the Forest Service's budget. Today, fire suppression consumes 55% of the agency's annual budget, and some officials estimate that could grow to two-thirds in a few years.
Throughout the budget negotiations, Tom McClintock remained silent on funding for the U.S. Forest Service. His stubborn stance on forest management by way of lumber companies and ranchers ignores the reality of wildfire and the solutions needed to prevent them. This is a dereliction of duty of the highest order, and lays bare his true motivation: Campaign donations.
In the run-up to the November 2018 midterm election, McClintock has received $16,700 from forestry & forest product companies, including $8,000 from the International Wood Products Association, making lumber one of his top sources of campaign donations.
If McClintock is unwilling to put the health of our forests and foothills, or the safety of his constituents ahead of the interests of his campaign donors, then it's high-time we elected someone who will.