Senate OK's forest bill, without indemnifying local authorities

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The Senate approved a bill Thursday that would enable local authorities to "mitigate" national forest lands they deem a threat to public safety, but not before stripping a crucial provision.

The House version of HB164 would require the state to cover the legal costs arising from local officials' decision to log or bulldoze a forest without federal approvals. For some senators, that could expose the state to too much liability, estimated to cost up to $1 million per incident, according to a fiscal note.

According to Senate sponsor, David Hinkins, R-Orangeville and other Republican lawmakers, the bill is needed because the U.S. Forest Service is allowing the West's national forests to become choked with dead trees by neither allowing enough logging or addressing a bark beetle infestation.

Al-Qaida hopes to use these "mismanaged" forests as weapons of terror by setting them ablaze with "ember bombs" — gasoline-soaked foam chunks ignited by timers in treetops, Hinkins said, citing an FBI report.

But he agreed with colleagues that indemnifying "rogue" county commissioners, despite the bill's "good faith" requirement, could prove expensive to taxpayers.

Brian Maffly