Please find a moment and contact Congressman Scott Tipton’s office and let him know (while Congress is in recess) that we do not support HB 2936 for the reasons described below in a recently published article. This bill is an outrageous attempt to remove your civil liberties and voice in protecting your public land assets. It's worth the read.
Tipton Government offices (contact all of them):
P: (202) 225-4761
P: (719) 587-5105
P: (970) 259-1490
P: (970) 241-2499
P: (719) 542-1073
Send an e-mail: https://tipton.house.gov/contact/email
Secretary of Interior Zinke and Congressman Scott Tipton are aggressively pursuing the privatization of our beloved public lands
It’s called the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 or HB (House Bill) 2936, co-sponsored by our very own Representative from Congressional District 3, Scott Tipton and Rep. Bruce Westerman, from Arkansas. A toned down version of this proposed bill passed the House of Representatives in 2015, but didn’t get further. President Obama would have vetoed it.
The Rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
Background of NEPA
The San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council (SLVEC), is a public lands advocacy organization, and has participated in hundreds of NEPA processes since 1995. NEPA is the nexus for public involvement and civil engagement. NEPA structures how the public gets involved with responding to a proposed project by soliciting public comment. NEPA uses formalized timelines, which in turn, obligates government agencies to respond with a range of alternatives (usually three or four) to provide options for various paths of decision making. Ultimately, by enjoining public scrutiny, a rational, coherent decision can be reached for a given project. This public inclusion is structured through formal analysis called Environmental Assessments (EA’s) or, to deal with complex project proposals, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS’s).
Local examples regarding the “use of NEPA” include; the Lexam oil and gas exploratory drilling proposal on the Baca Refuge; the Village at Wolf Creek development near the continental divide; the San Francisco Creek exploratory drilling proposal near Del Norte, were all able to be challenged and ultimately stopped because of this public participation. One of the reasons the NEPA process is so beneficial is it serves to redirect ill-conceived projects that impact public interest and the environment.
Of the hundreds of NEPA processes that SLVEC has been involved with over the years, we have only had to litigate five, which shows that the current system is working well. Most public processes are resolved through this “range of alternatives” selection, when a Record of Decision (ROD) can be achieved and implemented. Public agencies need public scrutiny, after all, these lands belong to us, the American public.
“More eyes on the land” provide better insight and ultimately a better project is fomented, that encompass the complexities of managing landscapes that include the protection of wildlife, biodiversity and ecosystem services--clean air, water, healthy soils and carbon sequestering-- the unquantifiable values that get side-tracked because of short term, profit driven motives.
NEPA also provides us with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Management Plan, the SLV Wildlife Refuge Management Plans and the current Rio Grande National Forest Management Plan revision. Why shouldn’t the public be involved with deciding how these public lands will be managed over the next twenty years? This is a proactive, healthy approach to protecting lands for future generations.
So why is NEPA now under ATTACK?
The Republican Agenda is about the privatization of our collective public assets, which include: Education, Social Security, the Military, and of course, our valuable public lands. There is nothing creative being currently proposed, this is just a bully whole sale taking of our assets.
So how does self-interest go about structuring such an undertaking? By passing bills like HB 2936 and creating a Secretary Zinke “Made In America Recreation Advisory Committee.”
The 2936 bill is divided into ten different titles, including a range of forest management “streamlining” and funding provisions aimed at increasing timber production in the national forests and other federal lands.
So, what will HB 2936 do?
1) Undermine NEPA alternative analysis by requiring only (2) action/no- action alternatives, instead of providing a “range of Alternatives.”
2) Drastically cramp NEPA review and the public input timeline after broadly-defined “catastrophic” (weather events and storms) events.
3) Further shortens NEPA review to only 2 months – requires the EA to be completed within 60 days after the conclusion of the catastrophic event. (Currently, most EA’s take between 6 months to a year).
4) Creates NEPA “Categorical Exclusion” (CA) for a broad range of forest management activities, which means it exempts (removes) NEPA public process entirely by creating a “categorical exclusion” for a broad range of “forest management activities,” specifically, forest management activities that produce timber, with no other benefits.
In some cases, this categorical exclusion could reach up to 30,000 acres, allowing a categorical exclusion up to nearly 429 times larger than the current 70 acre limitation for timber harvesting.
Just to provide some perspective, 30,000 acres is the same as 47 square miles. As a local comparison, the Baca Mountain Tract (acquired by the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000) is 13,500 acres. So, we are looking at a potential “categorical exclusion” that is almost three times the size of the Baca mountain tract which contains South Crestone, Willow, Spanish, Cottonwood and Deadman’s Creek watersheds.
5) Prevents NEPA review on every stage of forest planning by redefining it as not a major federal action.
6) Imposes Limitations on Judicial Review
Removes citizen ability to challenge projects motivated by self-interest by replacing judicial review of many forest management activities on both national forest and BLM lands with a binding arbitration process.
The bill would authorize the Forest Service to designate up to 90 projects per year (10 projects in each of the 9 Forest Service regions) for a “discretionary arbitration pilot program.”
The chosen project would not be subject to judicial review, even if it clearly violated the law.
7) Eviscerates the Endangered Species Act (ESA)
Exempts the Forest Service or BLM from consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding a forest management activity if the Forest Service or BLM determines that its action is not likely to adversely affect an endangered or threatened species or their designated critical habitat.
For any forest management activity that is subject to consultation, the bill imposes a 90-day deadline to conclude the consultation, after which the activity is legislatively deemed to be in compliance with the ESA.
Broadly exempts most forest management activities from compliance with the ESA by stipulating that any such activity “shall be considered a non-discretionary action.”
8) Undermines Protection of Roadless Areas
Includes convoluted language about roadless area management that could be interpreted to eliminate current regulatory protection of Inventoried Roadless Areas under the 2001 national Roadless Area Conservation Rule and the Idaho and Colorado roadless rules.
The Secretary of the Interior oversees National Parks, Wildlife Refuges and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.
Simultaneously, Secretary of the Interior Zinke has just announced a “Made In America Recreation Advisory Committee”. This committee “will focus on expanding public-private partnerships on America's public lands with the goal of expanding access to and improving the infrastructure on public lands.”
Zinke’s Roundtable participants gave specific examples about how public-private partnerships can make the outdoor recreation experience even better, and how the economy can be impacted by the tens of thousands of American manufacturing jobs that these products support.
“Not everyone can get to the backcountry and sleep in a hammock tethered to a rock wall. We need to encourage families and folks of all interest levels to enjoy our parks and other outdoor areas, making our land accessible to them,” said Zinke. “We have wonderful partners who proudly make their outdoor products in America. We can leverage these partners to help address the maintenance backlog on things like boat ramps, RV hookups, campgrounds, and cafeterias as long as the government is a willing collaborator.”
Coming soon…Public lands are open for business and you can visit your favorite theme park, driving your chosen fossil fuel vehicle
Made in America Partners include: Kirk La - Chairman & CEO - BoatU.S, Terry MacRae - CEO - Hornblower Cruises, Edward Klim - President - International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, Tim Buche - President & CEO - Motorcycle Industry Council, Phil Ingrassia - President - Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association, Frank Hugelmeyer - President - Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, Tim Rout - CEO – AccessParks, Thomas Dammrich - President - National Marine Manufacturers Association, Duane Taylor - Exec Director - National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council.
We get the picture.
If you combine HB 2936 with whom Secretary Zinke is choosing to surround himself with, our public lands are now being opened up for wholesale exploitation. Land grabs for oil and gas leasing, fossil fuel recreation access, coupled with restricting our public input to demand accountability.
It’s a recipe for disaster. The public, common sense balance that NEPA has provided since 1969 is now on the chopping block, driven by total ignorance regarding the fragmentation and evisceration of our complex landscape that contain biodiversity and species that deserve our long-term stewardship and protection.
We need our forests, national parks, wildlife refuges and BLM lands to buffer climate change, not to be curried into a Las Vegas motor show. This creates distraction from the real solution of us as human beings understanding our limitations and developing healthy boundaries. Isn’t practicing restraint supposed to be the backbone and philosophy of the conservative party?
Please contact Rep. Scott Tipton’s offices and tell him this is a bad bill and his constituency deserves better representation that will not tolerate the undermining of future generations of human, wildlife and biodiverse species.