Congressman Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, plans to introduce emergency legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives this week to “clear any obstacles” for the Forest Service to begin salvaging dead wood from areas burned in the Rim Fire.
McClintock toured some parts of the 400-square-mile fire area with Tuolumne County supervisors and foresters on Monday. He said the visit “drove home the immediate need for salvaging fire-killed timber,” which could then be sold to support long-term recovery efforts.
“The biggest problem with attempts to salvage is frivolous lawsuits by environmental extremist groups whose sole purpose is to delay removal until the timber becomes unsalvageable,” he said in an interview at The Union Democrat office in Sonora.
McClintock said dead wood in burned areas can still be commercially harvested but typically loses its value after about 18 months due to rot and decay.
“Given the amount of timber, there is an enormous revenue stream that could go toward reforestation,” he added.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors was scheduled to request a similar action at a regular meeting today.
The emergency legislation could be added to a pending forestry bill that would require the U.S. Forest Service to authorize increased timber harvests in national forests, McClintock said. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the Restoring Healthy Forest and Healthy Communities Act on the House floor Wednesday.
McClintock, who was scheduled to fly back to Washington, D.C., this morning, blamed forest management policies over the past 30 years for an 80 percent decline in timber harvests in the Sierra Nevada, which he said has led to forests becoming overgrown and more likely to burn, along with other negative environmental and economic impacts.
“In the name of environmentalism, we’ve seen more intense and frequent wildfires, overdrawn watersheds, trees that are more susceptible to disease and pestilence and an economy that’s been devastated as timber harvests have dropped,” he said.
While environmentalists have generally supported salvaging dead wood from the burned area, some local groups have opposed the McClintock-backed Healthy Forests Act.
“It will have a negative effect in the long run because they will be cutting down more mature trees,” said Jon Sturtevant, president of the Tuolumne Group of the Sierra Club.
Current policy prohibits the Forest Service from harvesting trees 30 inches in diameter or larger.
Sturtevant cited a lack of funding from Congress for thinning efforts as one of the main issues leading to fire-prone forests.
“He needs to look in the mirror to see who’s causing the problem,” Sturtevant said, “because Congress is not funding the Forest Service to do what they need to do.”
In a speech given on the House floor last week, McClintock argued that keeping forests thinned wasn’t a problem when harvests weren’t restricted to “small diameter” trees with “no commercial value.”