Proponents of a controversial plan to increase forest salvage logging are celebrating this week after the House approved H.R. 4200, the Forest Research and Recovery Act, by a vote of 243-182. The measure would direct the Departments of Agriculture and Interior to develop "research protocols for collecting and analyzing scientific information about the effectiveness and ecological impacts of catastrophic event recovery projects" and would require the departments to create cooperative projects with land-grant colleges and universities. Specifically, H.R. 4200 would give the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 30 days to develop restoration plans after a catastrophic event that covers more than 1000 acres. If the agencies deem that "expedited restoration work" is necessary, they can streamline environmental reviews.

Bipartisan supporters of H.R. 4200, including bill sponsors Representatives Greg Walden (R-OR) and Brian Baird (D-WA), argue that the measure would prevent wildfires by accelerating thinning and debris removal from national forests. Several Democrats, environmentalists and researchers oppose the plan, however, arguing that the bill would increase fire danger and provide incentives for loggers to go into remote areas. During floor debate on the legislation, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) criticized H.R. 4200 for allowing "unanalyzed salvage timber sales, new road building...and projects that threaten water supplies without any true, legally reviewable analysis of alternatives."

The controversy over salvage logging has intensified in recent months after the publication of a January 2006 Science article showed that salvage logging destroys naturally regenerated seedlings and increases the future risk of forest fires. The BLM briefly cut off funding for the study after its publication in Science, leading Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) to opine, "That's how the Bush administration treats science. They cancel your contract if you come out with science that isn't approved by Karl Rove and his minions."

H.R. 4200 now heads to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold a hearing on salvage logging this summer, but some opponents of the bill do not expect there to be enough support in the Senate for this issue to come to a floor vote.


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