N.M. Federal Lands News

by Frank DuBois

The Federal Land Council News

My column this month covers the ESA, healthy forests legislation, an unhealthy FWS, and socialist toilet paper.

Is the ESA alive and well?

Have you been told the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has not been reauthorized, and it is only enforced because Congress appropriates money for that purpose each year? If some yahoo (like me) told you that they were wrong. Technically wrong anyway.

The Congressional Research Service explains most legislation has two parts. First there is the statutory authority to carry out an action. In addition, there is a section which authorizes appropriations.  The ESA has both statutory authority and a section authorizing appropriations, and it’s the section authorizing appropriations which expired with FY 1992. The statutory authority contained within the ESA (to list, delist, designate critical habitat, etc.) has not expired.

So how can Congress appropriate money when the authority for appropriations has expired? By sleight of hand, of course. Both the Senate and the House have rules against this, but each year they waive that rule to be able to fund the ESA.  In other words, they have to go out of their way and violate their own rules to fund this act which has caused such harm across the West.

Why don’t they reauthorize the appropriations section? Because that would be an amendment to the ESA and would open the entire act up for amendment and they don’t want to do that.

Don’t we have a hero from the West who will stand up and object to waiving the rule that would prohibit the funding of the ESA? Apparently not. They remember Richard Pombo, a Republican from California who chaired the House Resources Committee. Pombo was first elected in 1992, and handily won reelection every two years until 2006. Pombo had decided to push hard to amend the ESA and the enviros didn’t like it. The Defenders of Wildlife spent over $1 million on the election, the Sierra Club sent 300 volunteers and organizers to help his opponent, the League of Conservation Voters ran ads, and they defeated his reelection bid. Since then, there have been no serious attempts to amend the ESA or jeopardize its funding.

Tuggle Stiffs Conservation Districts

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service intends to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on proposed changes to the Mexican wolf recovery program, and invited state and local governments in Az. & NM to be cooperating agencies in that effort. The Doña Ana and other Soil & Water Conservation Districts requested cooperating status but were turned down by the FWS. Doña Ana then filed a request for reconsideration and never received a response. Instead, FWS Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle wrote to each conservation district and invited them to provide input . . . just like any member of the general public.

The conservation districts have statutory authority and a duly elected board, but are being told by the FWS they have no more standing than a guy on the street.  You’d think with all the problems the feds are having in selling this program, they’d be smart enough to utilize the expertise of these local governments.

Making Unhealthy Forests Healthy

H.R. 1526, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act just passed the House of Representatives. In passing the bill, a majority in that body recognized the deplorable condition of our forests today. The sponsors of the bill made the following points:

  • Forests today are in many cases several times more dense than at the turn of the 20th century – for example, ponderosa pine forests throughout the Rocky Mountain West that used to contain 25 trees per acre may now have over 1,000. Failure to thin these forests has resulted in millions of acres of smaller, weaker trees that are prone to disease, insect infestation, and drought as evidenced by the current bark beetle epidemic that has infested over 40 million acres of National Forest land since 1996.
  • Despite the fact that National Forests are currently adding volume at a net rate of 33 percent annually, timber harvests have declined over 80 percent over the last 30 years. Current harvest levels only remove 10 percent of annual growth, and 16 percent of annual mortality. Total standing timber volume across the National Forest System is currently 1.4 trillion board feet – 700 times current harvest levels.
  • Currently, the Forest Service, an agency that once managed millions of acres and averaged over one billion dollars in revenues annually, now spends $2 for every $1 it produces and spends half of its appropriated budget on wildfire suppression.
  • A significant factor in declining federal forest health is a lack of long-term and affordable timber harvest access caused by litigation. This is, in large part, due to preservationist organizations using federal statutes like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as tools to litigate timber harvesting. Litigation and fear of litigation directly impacts how the Forest Service handles timber operations.
  • Beginning in the early 1990s, administrative appeals and litigation slowed Forest Service decision-making, increased timber program unit costs and reduced contract outputs (smaller, less economically viable contracts). Activist groups have become extremely adept at using the administrative process provided by NEPA and other laws to object to projects on both procedural and substantive grounds. During an oversight hearing this year in the Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, a witness from the Obama Administration admitted that litigation in the northern Rockies has ‘virtually shut things down on the national forests.’ The sad result of these lawsuits are forests that go unmanaged, and valuable timber that could support American jobs left to burn in wildfires, which kills species and destroys the forest environment, at times burning so hot that lands are sterilized.

The bill then makes some common sense changes to the administrative and legal requirements that are preventing active management of our forests. One section of the bill I really like would allow a Governor to designate high-risk areas of federal land for treatment and another section states, “Domestic livestock grazing may be used in a hazardous fuel reduction project or a forest health project to reduce surface fuel loads and to recover burned areas. Utilization standards shall not apply when domestic livestock grazing is used in such a project.”

The bill passed the House by a vote of 244-173. Rep. Steve Pearce voted for the bill, while Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Michelle Lujan Grisham voted against the bill.

Socialism & Toilet Paper

Perhaps you’ve read there is a shortage of toilet paper in Venezuela, resulting in “panic buying” and other worrisome actions by the public. The Socialist government there, rather than recognizing their price and currency controls are the culprit, instead blame “hoarding” by the ricos. They’re not squeezing their Charmin, they’re hiding it. And this makes me ask: Are you looking forward to what Obamacare will bring us?

Till next time, be a nuisance to the devil, don’t forget to check that cinch and you best keep a little toilet paper in your saddle bags.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship (www.nmsu.edu/~duboisrodeo).