Northwest forests are becoming vulnerable to fire

Dense forest stand in the Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. 

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4) has reintroduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act as the West is experiencing an unprecedented drought and a record-breaking wildfire season.

The bill restores forest health on over 80 million acres of national forests through active management, increases resiliency to wildfire and supports rural communities.

“Record-breaking wildfires in the West repeatedly highlight the need for proactive, scientific forest management,” Westerman said in a statement. “Decades of mismanagement have led to insect infestation, hazardous fuel buildup and dead and decaying trees, creating tinderboxes for the smallest stray spark to ignite a raging inferno.

“It’s time for Congress to stop sitting on our hands and actually allow the Forest Service to use proven, scientific methods when managing our forests so that we can prevent these fires from occurring in the first place.”

The bill would expedite thinning and logging projects up to 30,000 acres by “ending frivolous ligation” and remove interagency consultation requirements that delay forest management activities. Additionally, it would accelerate salvage operation and reforest activities, improve existing authority on insect and disease infestations and codify the principles of the Good Neighbor Authority.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act is cosponsored by Rep. Mike Garcia (R-CA-25) and has the bipartisan support of 70 members in the House of Representatives.

Westerman introduced similar versions of the bill in previous sessions of Congress. The bill passed the House in 2017 and moved on to the Senate, where it died. This current version also incorporates legislation introduced by other members of the House. These include the Healthy Forests for Hunters Act introduced by Rep. Pete Stauber (R-MN-8); the Commonsense Coordination Act introduced by Rep. Cliff Bentz (R-OR-2); and Garcia’s Protecting and Restoring Our Trees by Enhancing Conservation and Treatments (PROTECT) Act.

More than 85 organizations—including the American Sheep Industry Association—have expressed support for the legislation.

“We are especially pleased that this legislation recognizes the role targeted livestock grazing has on reducing noxious weeds and hazardous fuel management,” said ASI President Susan Shultz. “We know that targeted grazing supports overall range health and for decades, the sheep industry and our members have provided this service, often without federal recognition of the myriad benefits.

“Additionally, by addressing obstructionist and frivolous lawsuits, this legislation paves the way for our nation’s forests to once again be managed for the benefit and enjoyment of the public, not through litigation as has too often been the case.”

Environmental organizations have not commented on the current version of the bill but voiced their opposition in the past. The Center for Biological Diversity stated in 2017 the bill would “wreak havoc on our national forests—creating flammable forest plantations and hurting streams and wildlife.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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