WASHINGTON -- The House yesterday passed a bill to speed up the logging of burned forests and the planting of trees after storms and wildfires.
The bill, passed 243 to 182, would order that federal land severely damaged over more than 1,000 acres be restored within months, rather than years -- before insects and rot diminish the commercial value of fire-killed timber.
''As Americans, we like our wood products," said Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, the bill's chief sponsor. ''We build homes and furniture from wood. So if you're going to use wood, doesn't it make sense to first use burned, dead trees, rather than cut down rain forests" in South America or other places?
The measure's cosponsor, Representative Brian Baird, Democrat of Washington, called it a common-sense plan ''that will be good for the environment and the economy as well."
But most Democrats opposed the bill, arguing that cutting large old trees and planting new ones makes forests more vulnerable to fires and less valuable as a habitat for fish and wildlife. They say it is better to allow forests to come back on their own.
Forty-one Democrats joined 202 Republicans in supporting the bill.
Opponents also criticized the bill's name, the Forest Emergency Recovery and Research Act.
''Here we go again," said Representative Jay Inslee, also a Washington Democrat. ''We have a clear skies bill and we get more pollution, a deficit reduction bill and get more deficits. Now we have a forest recovery bill with less science and less common sense."
Inslee and other critics said the bill could result in young, densely stocked ''timber plantations" that are prone to sudden ''blowups" of extreme fire and in which treetop fires can spread to old-growth forests.
They also said the measure would help large timber companies log in areas where they are now barred, such as roadless areas in remote forests.
Walden and Baird disputed that, saying the bill specifically bars the planting of trees in evenly spaced rows, commonly called plantations, and would require that temporary roads built to accommodate logging be destroyed as soon as the harvest is completed.
Environmentalists remained skeptical, saying it was unlikely that a road would be destroyed once it is in place. They cited a backlog of road maintenance projects in national forests totaling tens of thousands of miles.
The bill now goes to the Senate.