Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2015

Lawmakers, interest groups debate what’s best for forest

Imagine watching a rare species on a warm night in the deep woods of the Allegheny National Forest.

All of a sudden a flash of light and then many more appear. It goes dark before all at once three flashing lights appear in synchronous patterns. Flash-Flash-Dark.

These are the rare Photinus carolinus fireflies located in Pennsylvania’s only national forest.

The focus the U.S. House Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee has for the national forest today is not preservation of this rare type of firefly, but to increase the “healthiness” of the woods with the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2015.

The proposed act, approved this week by the House Agriculture Committee, would increase forest management and flexibility “to deal with challenges” of timber harvesting while reducing “red tape” to prevent wildfires, infestation and more to insure a healthy woods.

The increase in timber harvesting and logging, proposed in the Resilient Forest Act of 2015, could negatively affect the Photinus carolinus and many more insects and animals throughout the Allegheny Forest, said Bill Belitskus, president of the Allegheny Defense project, a forest advocacy organization.

The Photinus carolinus is only located in two other places on earth – Great Smoky Mountains National Park and a spot in Southeast Asia. In 2012, the Firefly International Research and Education team of five biologists conducted surveys on the Photinus carolinus and 15 other firefly species found in the Allegheny Forest.

“To my perspective (the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee) aren’t interested in helping, (they are) just trying to get the cut up,” Belitskus said.

According to the 2012 survey, the Photinus carolinus species thrives in mature old growth forests. Since forests across western Pennsylvania are a half-century or more mature, the prime habitat for the Photinus carolinus is returning with a rise in population.

“It’s a beautiful area and it provides great resources,” Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-Pa), co-sponsor of the Resilient Forest Act of 2015, said. “If people knew what they were looking for, maybe (they) would see improvements in habitats,” explaining the improvements timber harvesting will have on the Allegheny National Forest.

An open editorial by Bob Model, chairman of the conservation policy committee of the Boone and Crockett Club, said the Resilient Federal Forest Act of 2015 could be named the “Returning Habitat Diversity Act or the Returning Habitat Productivity Act” because overgrown forests in the United States are poor wildlife habitats before fires occur.

Belitskus said that by removing the trees, the habitats for species like the Photinus carolinus and many more will be destroyed. This will reduce biodiversity in the Allegheny Forest.

The Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee and Thompson are also addressing forest fires in the United States. The subcommittee believes increasing timber harvesting and logging will prevent more wildfires and will provide disease control.

“The forest is growing and if you don’t manage it, it will lead to more wildfires and disease,” Thompson said.

The last naturally caused forest fire in the Allegheny National Forest occurred 22 years ago in 1993, according to the Marienville Ranger office at the Allegheny Forest.

The Allegheny Forest is a wet and dense forest. Because of its amount of rainfall and moisture it is sometimes nicknamed the “Asbestos Forest.”

“We don’t have a fire problem here,” Belitskus said.

The 1996 report by the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project said timber harvesting actually causes more severe fires.

“Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuel accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity,” said the summary of the 1996 Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report, University of California, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources.

Thompson and the subcommittee say the the proposed bill will reduce infestation and disease control throughout forests in the U.S.

“We’re not going to see clearcuts unless disease takes over,” Thompson said.

Belitskus said the way to prevent disease is not by increasing timber harvesting. Logging causes pathways and more roadways that brings in invasive species to the forest on tires of vehicles that are traveling through the forest, he added.

“Their actually creating the invasive species problem,” Belitskus said.

Last year in April 2014, the federal Farm Bill gave Gov. Tom Corbett power to designate the entire Allegheny National Forest as an “insect and disease treatment area.”

At the time individuals said this would lead to more logging. After Corbett’s statement, 98 percent of the Allegheny National Forest received treatment consisting of timbering, tree thinning and herbicide usage.

“We (Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee) take the ideas with the Farm Bill and build on them,” Thompson said.

Corbett did not give any public notice or announcement about the infestation and was not required to according to the Farm Bill. Ryan Talbot of the Allegheny Defense Project obtained the information through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Later, the public was informed through an article written by Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in June 2014. The article was also published in The Derrick and The News-Herald as an Associated Press member exchange story.

“The public should not be excluded,” Belitskus said.

The desirable timber in the Allegheny Forest compared to other national forests is more profitable because of the rare woods such as black cherry, red oak, sugar maple, ash and hemlock.

“This is going to help increase high rare timber harvesting,” Thompson said. “If you don’t harvest it at the right time you lose it.”

The Resilient Forest Act is scheduled to be on the floor at the House of Representatives in July.

“If you want the forest to be healthy and resilient, stop cutting it,”Belitskus said. “It will take 100 years to replace as much as you lost.”

Republished with permission from The Derrick.

First Published Saturday, June 20, 2015

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