The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress last month earmarked billions of dollars for fighting wildfires. Many conservationists and politicians celebrated that change.
But the legislation also rolls rolls back some environmental protections and that has split the conservation community.
The spending bill delays some habitat protections for newly endangered species. It also allows small logging projects to move forward without environmental review, so long as they are done to clear brush and reduce fire risk.
“Taken cumulatively, it’s a raw deal for our public lands and wildlife,” says Matthew Koehler of the WildWest Institute.
He says the new logging policy could be a slippery slope to more timber harvesting on public lands.
But Rebecca Turner of the conservation group American Forests says not so fast.
“What you have are common sense forest management practices which are pretty middle of the road,” Turner says.
She says small logging projects will clear out brush and reduce fuels for fire.
“While some see it as logging, that’s not what this is about,” Turner says. “It’s actually about forest health.”
American Forests is pleased with the spending bills’ fire funding fix, which begins in 2020.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.