Opinion Pieces

Chronicle Newspaper Guest Commentary: Protecting Our Region's Forest Jobs

Question: what do gravel and mud from forest roads have in common with factories? Answer: Very little. But there are efforts to impose the same regulations on our nation’s forest roads that are required of industrial facilities. These efforts are unnecessary, unfair, and unhelpful to our region that continues to need economic recovery.


In Lewis County and throughout Washington state, working forestlands support more than 76,000 jobs. My top priority in Congress has been and will continue to be getting the men and women of Southwest Washington working again. A critical step toward that goal is also protecting the jobs that currently exist. One of the jobs-related solutions I have spearheaded is providing legislative protection for our forest roads. Unfortunately, new federal regulations have been proposed that would send job-killing ripples throughout the forest products economy.


A little background: for nearly 40 years, forest roads operated by private forest land owners, the US Forest Service, and others have been responsibly maintained in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act. Forest roads are considered “nonpoint-sources,” meaning they don’t need to go through the same permit process required for factories and industrial parking lots. These roads are the access points that keep our forests working.


However, this access to forest roads came under attack in 2010 when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reversed decades of Clean Water Act protection by ruling that the mud, dirt, water and rock runoff on forest logging roads was “point-source” pollution. In other words, forest roads would now require the same resource-consuming permit that’s required for factories and industrial parking lots.  The consequences of piling additional regulatory burdens on our forest roads would be huge. Private forest landowners would have to shell out $155 million annually to go through the process and take the time to obtain these unnecessary permits. I’ve had private forest owners tell me they would simply shutter their businesses if this happened.


Those of us from Washington already understand the importance of being good stewards of our land and resources. In Washington state, the Forest and Fish Law already in place is recognized as the most thorough environmental protection in the nation. Since its implementation in 2001, private forest owners alone have already invested $155 million into improvements on 18,738 miles of forest roads and restoring 3,710 miles of fish habitat. They have plans to improve the remaining 7,413 miles of road by 2021. Putting an extra costly requirement on our forest economy would be unnecessary at best, and certainly destructive to our fragile economic recovery.


Joined by leaders from the business and labor communities, as well as Republican and Democrat colleagues in Congress, at the end of 2011 I successfully led legislation through Congress that the President signed into law blocking this “Forest Roads” rule for one year. Then in March of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court decision to require the new permits for forest roads.


However, we’re not out of the woods yet. Without a strong, permanent legislative fix, our forest roads on private and public forest land are still vulnerable to new forms of burdensome regulation and lawsuits. 


Earlier this year, I reintroduced a strengthened “Forest Roads” bill and am pleased to announce that it passed through the U.S. House of Representatives as part of the Farm Bill. The current Farm Bill expires on September 30, so the U.S. House is expected to take legislative steps to negotiate a final Farm Bill with the Senate.  I’ll continue working to make sure this forest jobs protection is in the final bill that gets signed into law.


Our communities know how responsible forest management is crucial to jobs, to forest health, and even to preventing wildfires. And keeping the red tape off our forest roads is a key ingredient to forest management. I’ll continue doing everything I can to get this commonsense bill passed into law, for the sake of Southwest Washington jobs and families.

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