The House of Representatives passed an omnibus public lands bill today, H.R. 2578, that bundles together more than a dozen proposals that have the sweeping effect of privatizing public lands and rolling back environmental laws. The vote was 232 to 188.
One of the provisions gives away tens of thousands of acres of public land from southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest—known as America’s rainforest and the crown jewel of the national forest system—to the Sealaska Corporation. This giveaway includes some of the best and last remaining large-tree old-growth stands and other prized anchorage spots that the public relies upon for fishing, hunting, recreation, subsistence lifestyles, and tourism business livelihoods.
Another provision of the bill creates a zone within 100 miles inland of our country’s northern and southern land borders with Mexico and Canada where the most basic protections for backcountry areas, historic sites, and other protected areas may cease to exist at the whim of the Department of Homeland Security. It also waives sixteen federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Wilderness Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Statement from Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Rebecca Judd:
“The legislation would cede title to over 90,000 acres of valuable national forest lands in the Tongass to a private corporation very likely to bulldoze and log it. Much of this land still contains the majestic original forests that are among the richest wildlife habitat in all of southeast Alaska. The Obama Administration has also made clear that it has serious concerns regarding this legislation, as the bill would harm the USDA Forest Service’s plan to transition southeast Alaska from reliance on old-growth logging to one of sustainable economic development through ecosystem restoration, fishing, and tourism.
“The legislation also presents a false choice between natural and cultural resources protection and national security. No doubt we need to secure the borders but it’s also clear we don’t need to remove our environmental protections in the border regions to do so. It’s telling that the Department of Homeland Security indicated this legislation is unnecessary, counterproductive and inappropriate.
“In addition, the bill includes a provision to expand the geographic scope of an experimental forest management pilot project to national forests across much of northern California and would mandate minimum annual timber cut levels, along with authorizing logging in roadless areas, recommended wilderness areas, spotted owl habitat, and salmon habitat. This legislation would also expand livestock grazing permits on public land and weaken important National Environmental Policy Act and public involvement provisions for such actions.”