Thompson’s Hearing Offers National Attention for ANF

Warren County Commissioner Delivers Testimony on Impact of Forest Planning Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, has held a public hearing to review the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed forest planning rule, which revises the Forest Service’s current planning process for its 155 national forests and 20 grasslands. The Forest Service issued the proposed rule on Feb. 14 and the public comment period ends May 16.

The National Forest Management Act of 1976 states that each national forest must develop a management plan with public input. The Forest Service developed regulations in 1979 that were ultimately replaced in 1982 and again in 2000.  Since then, efforts to make revisions to the forest management plans have failed due to litigation. 

The Honorable Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, delivered testimony on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and responded to concerns that the new planning rule will suffer the same fate as previous rules because of the rushed process, and does nothing to reduce the regulatory burden on those working in the forestry industry. 

Warren County Commissioner John Bortz was also among the panelists, at the request of Chairman Thompson.  In Warren County, Bortz is one of three commissioners statutorily charged by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth with both executive and legislative authority in order to administrate county affairs, including implementation of the ANF Forest Plan. Bortz offered concerns that the proposed rule is complex, lacks sufficient local involvement, and does not go far enough to promote job growth in forested communities, such as the ANF. 

Following the hearing Thompson issued this statement:

“Forestry and timber harvesting contribute to hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic productivity nationally. This is one of the most important economic engines in Pennsylvania, particularly throughout the Fifth Congressional District and communities within and surrounding the Allegheny National Forest. I believe we must engage in active land management to ensure for the best possible forest health. While I strongly believe that we are in great need of a new Forest Planning Rule, I do not believe the proposal goes far enough to ensure and promote active land management practices, or to guarantee the economic viability of timber production. I look forward to continuing to work with the Forest Service to make sure they stick to the mission of promoting multiple uses and to ensure that our national forests are in the best health for generations to come.”

Bortz, from prepared testimony:

“Our National Forests are a renewable resource that can bring a tremendous economic stimulus to our nation’s communities; the best strategies for assuring forestry conservation and community revitalization occur when local governments are made a part of the forest planning and management process. While the Forest Planning Rule provides the framework for the planning process, they haven’t been implemented in a manner that consistently welcomes local government involvement. Furthermore, no planning provisions should directly or indirectly interfere with personal property rights.  I have seen on many occasions where intrusiveness is imposed as authority. Over ninety percent of the subsurface holdings underneath the Allegheny National Forest are owned by others. They have a claim to this property and must not be prohibited by the surface holder from accessing it…”

In April, Thompson testified before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over funding the U.S. Forest Service, to express a similar set of concerns.

At the hearing, the congressman discussed the importance of the local timber industry to rural communities, as well as the numerous benefits harvesting will have on a forest’s overall health. Thompson also spoke about the challenges national forests face due to the endless and constant number of lawsuits against the Forest Service.

Before the Subcommittee, Thompson stated that “perhaps the greatest challenge to the Forest Service continues to be unnecessary litigation that continually hamstrings the Forest Service from carrying out its most basic duties.  Without a doubt, we all have a duty to ensure the Forest Service is adequately performing and the legal avenue for the public to address any malfeasance must be intact.  However, I strongly believe there are some outside the Service, as well as within, who are intentionally abusing the system based on a radical environmental ideology.  These legal battles often create inefficiencies and are a drain on the Service’s budget, staff and resources. How can the Forest Service – or any government agency for that matter – perform its work when they are incessantly involved with frivolous lawsuits,” Thompson concluded. 

For additional information and full testimony from  witness panels, click here.

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