Today the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee will hear testimony on long-needed Congressional efforts to stabilize funding for wildfire suppression in the Western United States. The problem is the wildfire funding may come with damaging—and unnecessary—strings attached: the dismantling of key environmental protections for all national forests, including those in the Southeast.
Last week, SELC and a number of other Southeastern organizations submitted comments concerned that the draft “Wildfire Budgeting, Response and Forest Management Act of 2016.” The bill, focused on fighting wildfires, inappropriately includes unrelated provisions to weaken the environmental review process for proposed logging in national forests nationwide. Our comments urged Senators to recognize there is no reason to attach controversial efforts to expedite logging in national forests to the important efforts to stabilize the U.S. Forest Service’s wildfire funding.
Weakening the longstanding, successful public and environmental review process for proposed logging projects would have significant impacts on our Southeastern forests, which provide enormous benefits. National forest land in the Southern Appalachian mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama attracts over 11 million visitors annually to fish, hunt, camp, and hike in these beautiful places. These forests are major drivers in the nearly $90 billion outdoor recreation industry in those six states, and the headwaters in our forests contribute to drinking water for about 11 million people in these six states alone, and countless more in other states downstream.