By Danny Dructor
The American Loggers Council held its annual Fly-In to Washington DC in March, connecting loggers to members of Congress and the Trump Administration. Our event would’ve had record participation if not for an early spring snowstorm. Fortunately, 60 members made it to our nation’s capital, and together we made progress on several policy priorities to benefit loggers across the country.
As with past events, the Fly-In gave ALC members an opportunity to meet with their respective members of Congress. However this year, loggers enjoyed increased access to administration officials. ALC held a meeting with officials in President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). As the people who most commonly do the work on federal forests, we urged the Administration to change the way the U.S. Forest Service does business. We also had an audience with Interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christensen and Deputy Director of Forest Management John Crockett.
A highlight of our Fly-In was passage of the bipartisan wildfire and forest management agreement in the omnibus appropriations bill. The forestry package includes a new fire suppression funding mechanism that will adjust funding caps to accommodate federal firefighting needs and end the need for regular fire borrowing from non-fire accounts at the Forest Service and Interior Department.
The package also provides land agencies with some new tools to reduce wildfire risks, including a new categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for Wildfire Resiliency Projects, an amendment to the Healthy Forest Restoration Act to allow creation of fuel-breaks and firebreaks under that law, and reforms to vegetation management regulations around power lines. In addition, the package allows repair and reconstruction of forest roads on Good Neighbor Authority projects, and provides relief from the “Cottonwood” decision that has threatened federal timber production throughout the West.
For years ALC has worked with other forestry organizations to bring attention to the poor health of our federal forests and the social and economic devastation caused by the decline in federal timber harvests. Unfortunately the agreement excludes many of the reforms in the House-passed Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. Even with the positive provisions in the omnibus agreement, it’s clear that more needs to be done to significantly expand the amount of work that’s needed on our federal forests.
The spending agreement also offered loggers a partial victory on the issue of wood-based biomass, a byproduct of logging operations that can serve as a source of renewable energy for industries and communities. The utilization of biomass has been hampered by low costs of fossil fuels and federal energy policies. The spending agreement extended the government’s policy of biomass’ “carbon neutrality” through September 2018.
We’ve also made progress in our effort to promote uniform truck weight limits for log truck drivers. For many years ALC has sought to create a more predictable system across state lines on federal interstate highways, especially as individual states have received various exemptions from the limits. We’ve have proposed creating an additional exemption for agricultural (including forest) commodity loads that meet state-legal requirements and tolerances.
As we’ve written in the past, our efforts to establish more predictable weight limits have been met with fierce resistence from lobbyists in the railroad industry. During the Fly-In several members of Congress pledged to introduce legislation to provide relief from this patchwork system. Moving forward ALC will invest in researching solutions and developing policy that can pass Congress and be signed by the president.
We’re also continuing the advocate for ALC’s Future Logging Careers Act to give 16- and 17-year-olds in family logging companies more hands-on experienced mechanized logging. Since it passed the House last year as part of the larger Resilient Federal Forests Act, the bill has languished in the Senate and is unlikely to move forward this session. Nonetheless, our bill’s supporters on Capitol Hill have pledged to continue searching for a legislative pathway in current and future sessions.
At this time it’s unclear what additional actions this Congress will take on forest-related issues. The prospects for a 2018 Farm Bill as an additional vehicle for reforms is murky due to partisanship in the Capital. That’s why we are increasingly focusing on working with the Trump Administration to advance our priorities. Thank you to the members who participated in the 2018 Fly-In, including those who were stopped by the weather. We are loggers working for loggers, and we are making progress.
Danny Dructor is the Executive Vice President for the American Loggers Council with offices near Hemphill, Texas. The American Loggers Council is a 501 (c)(6) not for profit trade organization representing professional timber harvesters in 32 states across the United States. If you would like to learn more about the ALC, please visit their web site at www.amloggers.com, or contact their office at 409-625-0206.