The art of obstruction may not manifest itself only in the offices of environmentalists and in the courtrooms of sympathetic judges.

Anti-management members of the U.S. Congress may follow their lead. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., warned that the greatest threat against his active forest management legislation, the bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HR 1904), is a filibuster.

When members of Congress filibuster, they launch into lengthy speeches and otherwise wage delay tactics to prevent a bill from receiving a vote. Sound familiar? Many environmentalists have perfected this approach to stalling forest-health projects. They file appeal after appeal, and, once this administrative process has run its course, they hold up forestry projects in court.

Roger Williams, Malheur National Forest supervisor, said, "Everything we do is appealed. ... Our litigation record is just escalating. I have six lawsuits right now."

No wonder our forests burn with such ferocity. We lost a million acres in Oregon last year. After years of fire suppression, these woodlands desperately need treatment - i.e., thinning and logging.

"Approximately 190,000,000 acres of land managed by the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior (Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) are at risk of catastrophic fire in the near future," Walden's legislation states.

Walden wants to reform the land-management laws so that fewer acres burn catastrophically each year. HR 1904 requires that outside parties must participate in forest-health project planning and otherwise follow more reasonable rules before they can throw a wrench in the works.

The legislation he and Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., crafted and which passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a bipartisan majority of 256-170 would streamline paperwork requirements for federal planners. Page 15 of the legislation stipulates that appellants "must have submitted specific and substantive written comments during the preparation stage of that authorized hazardous fuels reduction project" to have standing to appeal. Page 16 stipulates that lawsuits against projects must be filed within 15 days of the publication of the final notice of action. Any preliminary injunction must be limited to 45 days. Courts must weigh "the public interest in avoiding long-term harm to the ecosystem" caused by delay when considering whether to grant an injunction. Also, the bill stipulates that courts must "give deference to any agency finding, based upon information in the administrative record, that the balance of harm and the public interest in avoiding the short-term effects of the agency action is outweighed by the public interest in the avoiding long-term harm to the ecosystem." In other words, judges must acknowledge that no action can be more harmful to the environment than the preferred action.

While ecosystem health is the compelling reason cited in the bill, we know too well the economic devastation that results when federal lands sit idle. Walden also understands our frustration.

"I get tired of driving through these communities where the mills are shuttered and the economy shattered because we don't do the right things out on the federal lands," Walden told a crowd in John Day on Aug. 6.

How can we help? Walden says HR 1904 is due for consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate, probably in September when the August recess ends. We need to write, e-mail and call our congressional delegation and urge them to prevent a filibuster. This bill deserves a fair vote.

Here are key contacts for the Northwest delegation of senators who could press their colleagues to oppose a filibuster:

• Oregon

Sen. Ron Wyden: write to 516 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; e-mail to Wayne_Kinney@wyden.senate.gov; call (202) 224-5244; or access wyden.senate.gov on the Internet.

• Washington

Sen. Patty Murray: write to 173 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; e-mail to senator_murray@murray.senate.gov; call (202) 224-2621; or access murray.senate.gov on the Internet.

Sen. Maria Cantwell: write to 717 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; call (202) 224-3441; or access cantwell.senate.gov at the Internet.

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