The aftermath of the Eagle Creek Fire
The aftermath of the Eagle Creek Fire Trip Jennings/Balance Media

Even before the Eagle Creek Fire was extinguished in the Columbia River Gorge last summer, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas) wasted no time at all proposing a bill that would open the Gorge and other federal lands to clearcutting. Westerman and his friends in the forestry industry argue that logging the areas would prevent future forest fires. Although this myth is frequently pushed by the Forest Service and the timber industry, science says: It's bullshit. Logging actually increases the risk of fires later on by ridding the ecosystem of mature, fire-resistant trees. As ecologists Chad T. Hanson and Dominick A. DellaSala wrote in the New York Times in 2015 when the House was trying to pass a similar measure: "The small trees planted in their place and the debris left behind by loggers act as kindling; in effect, the logged areas become combustible tree plantations that are poor wildlife habitats."

Not only would Wasterman's Bill, ironically named the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, actually require salvage logging in the Gorge regardless of any benefits to the ecosystem, it would allow logging on roadless areas in national forests, and gut the Endangered Species Act by letting the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management decide whether or not logging will harm threatened species, a task that is currently handled by Fish and Wildlife or the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Whether humans like it or not, there are benefits to fires: Periodic burns create habitat and biodiversity and clear out grasses and underbrush than can lead to more destructive fires later on. But Westerman doesn't seem to care about the science of forest ecology as much as he does support from the timber industry, which happens to be his biggest campaign donor.

“This horrible bill is a triple-whammy," Earth Justice counsel Tracy Coppola said in a statement. "It’s chock-full of gifts to the timber industry; it undermines the public’s ability to hold government accountable; and it starves agencies of the resources they need to prevent and respond to fire. It’s unfathomable that, despite all the rhetoric about wanting to make our forests 'resilient,' that any member could push a measure that could actually increase the risks of catastrophic wildfires in the future. We’ll keep working with our allies in Congress to do everything we can to prevent this awful bill from ever becoming law.”

The bill passed in the House last month but conservation groups like Earth Justice continue to fight it. Check out the video below from the Crag Law Center and Balance Media for more info, and maybe add this terrible bill to the list of things to call your senators about.