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H.R. 3188: Yosemite Rim Fire Emergency Salvage Act




Statement for the Record

U.S. Department of the Interior

before the

House Committee on Natural Resources

Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation

Concerning H.R. 3188, a bill to expedite the planning and implementation of salvage timber sales as part of Forest Service and Department of the Interior restoration and rehabilitation activities for lands within the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park and Bureau of Land Management lands adversely impacted by the 2013 Rim Fire in California.

 

October 3, 2013

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 3188, a bill to expedite the planning and implementation of salvage timber sales as part of Forest Service and Department of the Interior restoration and rehabilitation activities for lands within the Stanislaus National Forest and Yosemite National Park and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands adversely impacted by the 2013 Rim Fire in California.

 

The Department strongly opposes this legislation.  H.R 3188 waives all provisions of federal law, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA).  The Department cannot support measures that expedite timber harvest at the expense of the environmental review of federal actions and public involvement in those actions.  The Department is also concerned that H.R. 3188 would require timber salvage sales in Yosemite National Park, where timber sales are currently not permitted.  This position pertains to the 78,790 acres of Yosemite National Park impacted by the fire and the 129 acres of BLM-managed public lands.  The Department of the Interior defers to the Department of Agriculture with respect to the lands within the Stanislaus National Forest. 

 

H.R. 3188 would require the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior (Secretaries) to plan and implement salvage timber sales of dead, damaged, or downed timber resulting from the 2013 Rim Fire.  The bill requires the Secretaries to proceed with salvage timber sales immediately notwithstanding any other provision of law, including NEPA, section 14 of the National Forest Management Act of 1976, the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and laws related to the management of timber within Yosemite National Park.  These laws include numerous critical environmental protection laws such as the Wilderness Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, and the National Park Service Organic Act.  H.R. 3188 also provides that salvage timber sales conducted pursuant to this bill shall not be subject to administrative review or judicial review in any court of the United States.  

 

The Department is committed to providing the full environmental review, including analysis of alternatives, and public involvement opportunities required by NEPA for all agency proposals on lands managed by the Department of the Interior.  NEPA emphasizes public involvement to give all Americans a role in protecting our environment.  By waiving NEPA, H.R. 3188 would not require consultation with any federal, state, local or tribal governments or with local residents.

 

Timber Sales in Yosemite National Park


H.R. 3188 would require that salvage timber sales be conducted on the lands within Yosemite National Park that were impacted by the 2013 Rim Fire.  This area of the park is over 90% federally designated wilderness and includes portions of the watershed of the Tuolumne River, a designated Wild and Scenic River, which flows into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir and provides drinking water for the city of San Francisco.  Undertaking salvage timber sales in wilderness areas may require that new roads be built or that mechanized tools be used, both of which are not generally allowed in NPS wilderness areas. 

 

While the National Park Service (NPS) has historically engaged in limited timber salvage in specific cases where hazardous trees needed to be removed to protect the health and safety of visitors, the NPS does not generally engage in timber sales or salvage sales.  All of the hazard trees resulting from the 2013 Rim Fire have already been removed from along the roadway and other visitor use areas in Yosemite National Park.  Therefore, there is no need to engage in any further tree removal or salvage timber sales.      

 

Section 3 of Title 16 of the U.S. Code authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to sell or dispose of timber only in cases where it is required in order to control the attacks of insects or diseases, or to conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects in any such park, monument, or reservation.  While the NPS will take management actions to protect life, property, and infrastructure immediately after a wildfire, burned areas are allowed to recover naturally wherever possible.

 

NPS policies generally discourage consumptive uses, such as timber harvesting, unless the use is specifically provided for in law or treaty, or is an authorized traditional use.  When there is an accumulation of natural products resulting from management actions, such as an accumulation of timber produced by hazardous tree removal following a wildfire, NPS policies require the disposal of these materials through natural processes when practicable. 

 

In addition, the NPS does not have the authority to retain the revenues from selling or permitting the removal of timber.  Any proceeds from such sales would be deposited into the general Treasury as miscellaneous receipts.   If enacted, H.R. 3188 would likely require the NPS to pay for the administrative costs of carrying out the timber harvest, yet not allow for the recovery of costs associated with harvesting or permitting the removal of timber.

Timber Sales on BLM-managed Public Lands

The BLM conducts salvage timber sales, when appropriate, in areas where fire, disease, or other disturbances have occurred based on local Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and the appropriate environmental review process.  Based on preliminary assessments, the BLM believes that it is unlikely that timberlands were affected on the 129 acres of BLM-managed land affected by the fire.  Once the fire has reached 100% containment, an analysis will be made as to whether there is an opportunity to conduct a salvage timber sale on the affected BLM lands.

 

The Department is committed to responsibly managing the federal lands that were impacted by the 2013 Rim Fire.  Existing laws provide adequate authority to carry out restoration and rehabilitation activities, ensure that federal agencies consult with federal, state, local and tribal stakeholders, and protect the natural, biological and cultural resources located on these public lands. 

  

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department.