Southeast Opposition Mounts as Senate Considers Proposal Tying Western Wildfire Funding to Logging

Washington, D.C.— Today the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee held a hearing on long-needed Congressional efforts to stabilize funding for wildfire suppression in the Western United States. Yet many conservation groups voiced significant concerns because 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 outlining concerns about 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.

At the hearing, some Senators pushed for limiting the public review process and even restricting the ability of citizens to challenge troublesome forest management decisions, both of which would lead to problematic logging decisions.

“Necessary wildfire funding should not be held hostage to efforts to streamline logging,” said Sarah Francisco, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program. “We hope Congress receives the message that logging our Southeastern forests won’t fight wildfires in the West.” 

Weakening the longstanding, successful public and environmental review process for proposed logging projects would have significant impacts on 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.