House Lawmakers Push Legislation to ‘Stop the Spread of Catastrophic Wildfires’

Some House lawmakers are calling for a change in policy to help prevent wildfires.

“Active forest management is needed to stop the spread of catastrophic wildfires,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said in a statement last month.

“Irreplaceable natural resources and human lives are at stake, and we must focus on the immediate solutions available. It is time for members of both parties in the House and Senate to work together to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act.”

Wildfires are spreading across California, covering over 115,000 acres of land, destroying 1,500 buildings, and forcing residents to evacuate from 5,000 of their homes, according to the Los Angeles Times. So far, the state has reported 15 people dead.

According to the Congressional Western Caucus, 2017 has had “one of the worst wildfire seasons in history,” destroying over 8.4 million acres of land and leaving 80 million more at high risk in the U.S. Members of the caucus called last month for forestry reforms to prevent future wildfire disasters.

The bill, introduced by Westerman, is designed to tighten forest management. The legislation includes measures to require litigations against forest management projects to provide an alternative management proposal and would “increase the pace and scale of forest management projects.” According to the House Committee on Natural Resources, “the bill streamlines onerous environmental review processes to get work done on the ground quickly, without sacrificing environmental protection.”

“Backwards forest management policies have [caused] public land management agencies to allocate time, energy, and resources on the back-end trying to put out massive wildfires that are already blazing,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said in a statement in September. Anyone with a medical background knows the importance of working to prevent a problem, rather than just treating it.”

But some oppose the bill. In a hearing in June with the U.S. House Natural Resources subcommittee on federal lands, former Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Furnish said the bill undermines other environmental issues, such as the carbon crisis and fish preservation.

“This bill seeks to take us back to the old days when logging dominated public lands,” Furnish said in prepared testimony. “That policy proved bankrupt socially and legally. The bill essentially creates a series of workarounds by legislating fixes to nonexistent problems, unless you see national forest lands primarily as timber farms.”

Report by Ian Snively. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Press Briefing by Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke on the Executive Order to Review the Designations Under the Antiquities Act

MS. WALTERS:  Hello, everyone.  As you guys knows, we’re going to go through an EO for tomorrow.  The speaker this evening is Secretary Zinke.  This is embargoed until 9:00 p.m.  It is on the record, so everything discussed here will be on the record.  The embargo is until 9:00 p.m. tonight.

Again, this falls underneath Kelly’s issue area, so if you have any additional follow-up questions, please reach out to Kelly Love.  For those of you on the phone, there will be a handout during this session, so if you would like the handout please email Kelly as well, and we will get it to you.

With that, I’ll turn it over.

SECRETARY ZINKE:  So I’ll read this and then I’ll answer some questions.  Tomorrow, the President will come to the Department of Interior, to my office, and sign the executive order to review the Antiquities Act.  The executive order will direct me, as the Secretary, to review prior monument designations and to suggest legislative changes or modifications to the monuments.  The monument designation period stretches from 1 January 1996 under which the act — and it has to include acts and monuments that are 100,000 acres or more — so the beginning date is January 1st, 1996, and the other condition is they have to be a total of 100,000 acres or more.  That should include about 24 to 40 monuments.  That gives you kind of a thumbnail.  

The executive order directs the Interior to provide an interim report to the President within 45 days of the day of the order and a final report to the President within 120 days of that order.  

For the record, in the last 20 years, in particular, that would cover about, oh, tens of millions of acres to include marine area sanctuaries.  Some of these areas were put off limits for traditional uses, like farming, ranching, timber harvest, mining, oil and gas exploration, fishing, and motorized recreation.  

The designations on kind of the bookends are the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument of 1996.  And that was the first BLM land designation, all the way to really the Bears Ears National Monument in 2016, which has been in the news a lot.  So those are the kind of two bookends.  Again, it’s monuments that are 100,000 acres or larger, so it hits the big ones.

The President’s — the authority on such matters is singular, so you know.  There’s no requirement for public input before the designation of a monument and there’s no NEPA requirement.  Normally, when you do a land use project, we normally NEPA.  The Antiquities Act is the exception.  Again, we don’t have to go through legislative process; the President determines it, and it does not have to go through NEPA.

In this case, the administration, as you all know, has heard from members of Congress and states and, in some cases, the designation of the monuments may have resulted in loss of jobs, reduced wages and reduced public access.  And in the case of sign public land use, we feel that the public, the people that the monuments affect, should be considered.  And that’s why the President is asking for a review of the monuments designated in the last 20 years to see what changes, if any, improvements can be made, and give states and local communities a meaningful voice in the process.

And I can tell you, from a kid who grew up in Montana, or grew up in the West, where much-needed monuments have taken place, I think today’s executive order and review of the Antiquities Act over the past two decades is long overdue.  

And the policy is consistent with the President’s promise to give Americans a voice and make sure their voices are heard.  Like many of the actions he’s taken since assuming the role of the President, the office, this is yet another example the President is doing exactly what he was saying in his campaign promises, and he’s delivering.

The President believes, like I do, that many of the neighbors in the Western states of the federal government can be a good neighbor.  We can protect areas of cultural and economic importance, and they can use the federal lands for economic development when appropriate, just as Teddy Roosevelt envisioned it.  I am a lifetime supporter and admirer of Teddy Roosevelt’s policies, and the President is the same.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 — and that was under President Roosevelt — it did give the President the authority to declare historic monuments, landmarks, prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic and scientific interest on federal lands.  Also in the Antiquities Act, authors specified the scope of the authority to “designate the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”  That’s verbiage from the act itself.

So with the average size of the monument’s designations over the past years has increased.  I think that should be worthy of notice.  Since the 1990s, when the act was first used, the average size of the national monuments came from 422 acres to, today, in the millions of acres.  

So here’s what the executive order does in summary.  It restores the trust between local communities in Washington that the local communities and states will have a voice — those states that are affected, and local communities.  The executive order puts America and the Department of Interior back on track to manage our federal lands in accordance with traditional multiple use, as laid out by Pinchot and the President, and directs the Department of Interior to make recommendations to the President on whether a monument should be rescinded, resized, modified in order to better manage our federal lands.  And this executive order gives rural communities across America, again, a voice, as his campaign promised and is delivering that.

Here’s what the executive order does not do.  The executive order does not strip any monument of a designation.  The executive order does not loosen any environmental or conservation regulation on any land or marine areas.  It is a review of the last 20 years, and the review has timelines in which I am obligated to uphold.

So I have with me my advisor, Downey Magallanes, with me.  Downey is there, and she’ll help me answer questions if I cannot field them.  So, questions?  Sir.

Q    Does this executive order presuppose that the President has the authority to unilaterally withdraw weigh-ins or revoke a national monument designation?  Or is that one of the issues that —

SECRETARY ZINKE:  No.  As I said in my hearing, it’s undisputed the President has the authority to modify a monument.  It’s pretty premature to suggest we do the review in which I’m going to review and recommend to the President whether to rescind a monument completely or modify it.  It is untested, as you know, whether the President can do that, but at this point, I haven’t gone through the list — and I’m sure someone is going to ask me how I’m going to go through and review, so I’ll be glad to answer that. 

Yes, sir.

Q    Thank you very much.  First, just to clarify, it was extended to 21 years just to include Grand Staircase in this review?  And secondly, do you believe, at the end of this review process, you’ll recommend changes to the Antiquities Act?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  The bookends really are from the Grand Staircase to Bear’s Ears, so that’s the period of time, roughly — about 20 years.

Q    So it’s included on purpose?
SECRETARY ZINKE:  Well, it went back 20 years.  So I’m not going to predispose what the outcome is going to be.  How I’m going to proceed is this — is I’m going to talk to congressional delegations and review the list.  I’m going to talk to governors.  I’m going to talk to the stakeholders involved and formulate recommendations that are appropriate.

Up front, I’m a Teddy Roosevelt guy.  And so I think, when the Antiquities Act came out, I think we should all recognize that, by and large, the Antiquities Act and the monuments that we have protected have done a great service to the public and are some of our most treasured lands in this country.  So this is an enormous responsibility I have to make recommendations that are appropriate, that follow the law.  But no one loves our public lands more than I.  You could love them as much, but you can’t love them more than I do.  And that’s one of the reasons why I love my job.

Q    During your confirmation hearing, you told Maria Cantwell, I am absolutely against the transfer and sale of  public lands, it can’t be more clear.  Do you still believe that?  And I have a follow-up.

SECRETARY ZINKE:  Absolutely, unequivocally, I stand by — matter of fact, with a recreational guide this morning, I made the same statement again, is that I am opposed to transfer or sale of public land.

What I am strongly supportive of is managing our land.  And there’s no doubt if you — especially out West.  You look at the catastrophic forest fires, our wildlife corridors, our water management — that we can do a lot better as a government of managing our land.  And, to a degree, we’ve drifted too far away from multiple use into single use.

Q    Do you worry, though, that this will lead to the transfer of land?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  No.  I’ve heard that argument; I think that argument is false.

Q    It just won’t happen?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  And remember, the monuments before this happened were public land.  And when they designate a monument, what it does is it restricts it and sometimes it restricts it from traditional uses like grazing.  Public access, in some cases, can be restricted because gates go up.

So I think you have to proceed carefully on it.  But multiple use on much of our land was designed under Pinchot to use for the public good for all of us, and not necessarily single use.  And that’s where we are.

Q    You said in your last response that in general you feel like in most of these cases the designations have provided some kind of public service and they’ve done a good job.  Can you talk about the flip side of that coin — cases where you feel like maybe they actually haven’t?  And then just one clarification — does this apply to monuments that were designated earlier than 1996 but then modified after 1996?  Apparently there are a number that fall into that category.

SECRETARY ZINKE:  On your second point, if the modification was significant, we’ll look at that.  My understanding is there’s about 30 or so monuments that fall into the category of 100,000 acres or larger and the modification was significant.  But by and large, it’s the bookends we talked about.

I think the concern that I have and the President has that when you designate a monument, the local community that’s affected should have a voice.  And he said that in the campaign, he said that American citizens should have a voice.  The little community, the loggers, the fishermen, those areas that are affected should have a say and a voice.

And so, again, this executive order doesn’t predispose any action other than having the Secretary that he chose — me –review them.  And I’m going to review it in a transparent matter to make sure, A, we have a voice, the process is transparent.  And at the end of it, we’re going to follow the law as Teddy Roosevelt laid out.

Q    Just want to get back to concern swirling around the EO.  What’s your response to people who believe that the review is setting the stage for an assault on public lands for the purposes of oil and gas development?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  I’ve heard that many times about — and I think it’s the modern media that we live in today.  We’re so polarized as a country, and action is perceived as doing something that’s not — and this, the executive order is carefully crafted to review.  It doesn’t predispose an outcome.  

Again, the President — I was honored to be chosen and confirmed as his Secretary of Interior.  I’ve laid out my beliefs, as well as the President shares, about public land.  But again, the core of this is to make sure the public has a voice.  That’s who I work for.  That’s who the President works for, is the people.  And that’s — love to get the people a voice on that.  But I think it’s a false narrative that we’re going to predispose any particular action until the review.

Q    Are you anticipating any legal challenges from environmental groups?  And what are you doing to prepare for some pretty staunch opposition from some of these groups opposed to the President’s —

SECRETARY ZINKE:  It’s interesting, in the first days of my office, I think I got sued six times before lunch.  So prudent public policy should be the right policy, and I’m not in fear of getting sued.  I get sued all the time.  I don’t think lawsuits should shape public policy.  I think our public policy should do what’s right.  The courts are free to challenge, and we live in a great country that people are free to challenge.  I’m not going to make my judgments on the basis of getting sued or not sued doing the right thing.  

Q    Mr. Secretary, you referred to lost jobs.  Could you provide a concrete example, going back to 1996, of where there’s community that — in terms of net job loss, it exceeded the gains from being designated a national monument?  And in terms of your recommendations, obviously, you and White House officials have indicated that it might include legislative recommendations.  To what extent do you think Congress is the one that should redraw the lines based on community input, as opposed to, say, the White House and the Interior Department redrawing any lines for these monuments?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  Great question.  Jobs, that’s part of the study we’re going to look at.  Because you have, on the side — some jobs would probably be created by recreation opportunities.  So in the parks, we had 330 million visitors last year.  Some of our parks alone are at record capacity.  And so I was this morning in our parks, and I think our economic driver is at $34.9 billion a year.  And if you look at the recreation industry, it’s quite a bit more than that.

So there’s jobs across — we’ll look at what sectors were affected, plus or minus, and that will be part of the recommendation.  I can’t give you any numbers until we look at it, but jobs — I recognize on both sides.  

Secondly, I’m sorry, your second point was?

Q    My second question is, to what extent should it be Congress that actually redraws the lines for any of these monuments, or to what extent do you think that the White House and the Interior Department can unilaterally redraw them?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  From an Antiquities Act point — this is — the President has singular authority.  But I think the philosophy on public lands should be what’s inscribed in the Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone Park — it’s for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.  That’s what’s ascribed in stone at the Yellowstone Arch.  And oddly enough, in one of the pillars, it says “Enacted by Congress.”

So I think it’s appropriate, the three branches of government — at least the Congress and the President — should work together.  Certainly in Utah, you have a congressional delegation — this is the two we’ve talked about in Utah.  I think that the delegation that represents the people should be coordinated with, the governor should be coordinated — and the principals on the ground on both sides, their voice needs to be heard.

Q    Yes, thank you.  Is it your opinion that (inaudible) will be used in the Antiquities Act?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  Well, certainly, that’s a concern.  If you’re out in Utah, the Utah legislature — on a state side, they’re vehemently opposed to it.  Those out in the West would probably say it’s abused.  My position is I’m going into it and evaluating on a legal basis, and making sure people have a say.  But I’m not going in with a political judgment either way.  I just want to make a firm judgment based on the facts on the ground and giving people a voice.  

Certainly the governor is going to have an influence.  Jobs are going to have an influence.  The congressional folks are going to have an influence on it.  But given my personality, I’m going to be transparent about it.

And, sir, I’m going to give you the last question.

Q    Thank you.  So you said there’s going to be a 45-day interim review.  We’ve seen the President sign other executive orders where he just asks for a final review.  Is there a particular reason why there’s a shorter window for that —

SECRETARY ZINKE:  The 45-day review is pretty much centered on Bears Ears, because that’s the most current one.  My obligation is to wrap up at least my recommendation in 120 days.  The recommendation I could save for further review.  

So that’s part of it, is I have some latitude as the Secretary to look at whether I have the facts on the ground.  Again, a lot of it’s going to be driven on talking to elected officials, local governments, the stakeholders, and making a reasonable decision so we, the people, have a voice.  

And I think it’s appropriate to — a couple mentions whether the President — this President has some plan to sell or transfer public lands — no.  This executive order simply, I think, initiates a review, which is appropriate.  When an  administration comes in — a new administration, that was one of his campaign promises.  He’s delivering on a promise.  He selected me to review it.  I may be the most popular individual in the world, or I may be the most unpopular position in the world, but it’s a job that — I can’t be more thrilled being the Secretary of Interior.  I mean, to be the steward of a fifth of our country and the majesty — it’s an enormous responsibility, but also it’s a gift.  So I’m going to use that authority I think to the benefit of us all.  

So thank you, everybody.

Q    Just to clear up, do you expect to have a decision on Bears Ears in 45 days?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  I expect to have a recommendation.

Q    A recommendation on Bears Ears in 45 days.

SECRETARY ZINKE:  I do.

Q    And are you planning on going in that amount of time?

SECRETARY ZINKE:  I am going to be out there.  There’s no doubt I’m going out there.  And I would have been sooner, but we had the first Cabinet meeting.  I was delayed in the hearings.  So no doubt that my travel schedule is going to be busier than it already is.

Q    Mr. Secretary, just on (inaudible) — can you just say anything about your philosophy about that upcoming executive order, which we also expect this year?

MS. WALTERS:  We’ll be able to comment on that on Thursday.  We’re going to put together a background briefing.  Thank you.

SECRETARY ZINKE:  Keep the faith.  It’s all good.

Q    Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  

Q    Thank you.    

END 

Oversight Hearing on the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act

COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
Oversight Hearing on the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017 10:00 AM
Subcommittee on Federal Lands
1324 Longworth House Office Building Washington D.C. 20515 

On Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at 10:00 a.m., in Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold an oversight hearing entitled “Examining the Consequences of Executive Branch Overreach of the Antiquities Act.”