Conservation Column: Be Alert to Drongo Tactics in Congress

Drongos are short-legged birds who literally speak with forked tongues, as do many passerines. They are good mimics. Birds mimic for many reasons, but the drongo can use this ability for tactical deceit. When they see a meerkat carrying food, the drongos loudly mimic a meerkat alarm call. This causes the duped individual to drop their food and run for cover. Guess who gets the food?

Similarly, some people in Congress are giving an alarm call about forest practices and wildfire danger. Proponents of HR 2936 and SB 1731 claim that these new laws would make our forests healthier. What seems more likely is that they will provide benefits to timber companies without protecting the forests. The ironically named “Resilient Forest Act” just passed in the House. The Senate version, “The Forest Management Improvement Act”, has been introduced and may soon be up for a vote. Some troubling aspects of the bills are that they exempt forest projects from review and from the protection of environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and NEPA, the National Environmental Protection Act. For example, the Forest Service would no longer need to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experts to determine if a project would harm a protected species, and they would no longer need to do an environmental review to determine what the impacts of their project would be.

Other problems with the bills:

  • Expansion of the amount of national forest lands that can be logged without public input.
  • Elimination of environmental protections, including increased logging of old-growth forest.
  • Elimination of environmental review, allowing large areas to be clear-cut without analysis of how that might affect habitat, wildlife populations, water quality, erosion, or flooding.
  • No analysis of cumulative effects for adjacent projects, thus allowing large swaths of forests to be excluded from review.
  • Allowance for more road development, a leading cause of sediment in fish habitat and drinking water sources. Other resulting problems include fragmented habitat and increased introduction of invasive organisms.
  •  Allowance for an increase in salvage projects after fires and other disasters. It’s disheartening to imagine animals just starting to move back in after their environment is devastated, only to face heavy machinery and more habitat destruction.
  • The bills purport to decrease wildfire problems, but the proposed post-fire logging operations would actually increase damage. Forests with a lot of snags burn less intensely, since snags lack small twigs and needles which ignite easily. According to scientists, forests with the most logging in our region burn the hottest. By targeting old-growth forest, the most fire-resistant type of forest will be removed. In addition, catastrophes do more damage when plantation trees are of the same age, size, and vulnerability.
  • “Litigation relief”: This part of the bill means that citizens and the environmental organizations representing their interests can no longer use the judicial system to question harmful projects.

People disagree on how to manage our forests, and problems, especially with wildfires, need to be addressed. We can be both more environmentally and fiscally responsible by dealing separately with logging proposals and fire-funding legislation. Unfortunately these Congressional bills will further damage our forests. We need our forests to protect habitat for the birds and other organisms that we value. National forests boost the economy with the associated increase in outdoor recreational activities. They provide services such as clean water, air filtration, carbon sequestration, and landslide prevention.

Urge your senators to oppose SB 1731. Link to petition: abcbirds.org/action/petition-northern-spotted-owl

 wyden.senate.gov/contact

 merkley.senate.gov/contact