Analysis of New Threats to the Forest

Can we say unprecedented disaster?  The barrage of presidential Executive Orders and congressional actions is not easy to keep up with nor is it clear what to do in response. To help ease the overwhelm, I’ve distilled how recent national politicking may affect Mt. Hood National Forest and other federal public land.

In truth, this has been emotionally taxing to compile and may be hard to read. Have courage and take action – we've already made some small victories and are in a for a long fight!

Presidential Actions

1. Hiring freeze on federal civilian employees. No vacant positions may be filled, no new positions may be created, and agencies are not allowed to contract out their responsibilities. This freeze is in place until the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management create a “long-term plan to reduce the size of the Federal Government’s workforce through attrition.”

The new hiring freeze, coupled with the intentional shrinking of the federal work force, will have serious impacts on the ability of federal land managers to do their jobs. While this could slow the planning for commercial timber sales it will also hamper the Forest Service's important restoration and recreation work. When campaining in Eugene, Donald Trump promised to increase logging on National Forests. In the near future, we may see policies that allow the Forest Service to fund and hire for resource extraction, but not restoration or recreation.

2. Political review of scientific data. The Trump administration is mandating that any studies or data from scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public. While this doesn’t yet apply to all federal agencies, this approach to politically censoring science – especially as it relates to climate change – is very concerning and something we'll be carefully watching.

3. Denial of Climate Change and disappearing of resources. The new administration has taken down all references to climate change from the White House web site, including the Climate Action Plan and documentation of CEQ guidelines. The CEQ is a division of the Executive Office of the President that coordinates federal environmental efforts, administers the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and works closely with agencies and other White House offices on the development of environmental and energy policies and initiatives. Now, the documentation of CEQ's guidance on quantifying greenhouse gases from federal projects, including timber sales, has disappeared.  

4. For each new regulation, two must be eliminated. With this Executive Order, President Trump directed all federal agencies to identify two old regulations to cut before adopting a new one. While this order may be hard to implement, it has a chilling effect on the ability of federal agencies to perform their functions, especially as related to environmental protections. 

5. Cabinet Nominees.

Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia, is the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service. Gov. Perdue has no relevant experience with public lands, and is expected to focus on the farming aspect of the Department. The yet-to-be nominated Undersecretary for Natural Resources & the Environment will be the primary mover directing Forest Service policy.   

Ryan Zinke, Montana’s lone delegate in the House of Representatives, is nominated to be Secretary of Interior, which includes most federal agencies responsible for managing public lands and wildlife, including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act. Interior oversees 500 million acres in total, or about a fifth of the land in the U.S. While Rep. Zinke is a strong proponent of keeping public land under federal management, he also advocates increasing fossil fuel extraction on, and weakening environmental protection of, public lands.  

Congressional actions

On day one of its new session, the U.S. House of Representatives changed its own rules to ease the transfer of federally held lands to state governments and localities, by making the value of federal lands nothing. This means that there would be no assessment of the budgetary impacts of transferring land from the federal government to the state government, or offset any budget impacts.  

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R – UT) introduced a bill (H.R. 621) directing the Secretary of the Interior to sell 3.3 million acres of Federal lands including 70,000 acres of public lands in Oregon. Happily, the swift negative public reaction – especially from backcountry hunters and anglers groups – forced Rep. Chaffetz to withdraw this bill (yay, a small victory!).   However, Rep. Chaffetz is still sponsoring H.R. 622, which would terminate law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management in favor of local sheriffs policing federal lands.

We'll keep you updated about all these (and probably more) as they develop; feel free to ask me your questions, or share thoughts, about this compilation.

What can you do?   

Write to Senators Merkley & Wyden (or your own Senator, if you live in a different state) and encourage them to be champions of our federal public lands.
Get out to the forest! Strap on your snowshoes and learn animal tracking on the next Bark About, and RSVP for Bark's next groundtruthing training on March 30th and April 1st!
Join activists from across Oregon at Sen. Wyden's town hall on Feb. 26. Bring hand-written letters and signs urging the Senator to #protectpubliclands and wear a bright green shirt! RSVP here!

Invite friends to get involved with Bark!

Drop by the Bark office to commiserate.  Grief is best shared, so come on over and talk to me about how you're feeling and how we can best work for social & environmental justice for all.
In community,  

Brenna Bell

Staff Attorney