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Panel Reviews Discussion Draft Legislation to Improve Resiliency of National Forests

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 15, 2017 -

Washington, D.C.  Today, the Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a legislative hearing on the “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017” (Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-AR), discussion draft legislation to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and dramatically improve the health of federal forests and rangelands.

The fact is, we’ve loved our trees to death. Literally. Our federal forests are suffering due to overgrowth, disease, insect infestation and wildfire,” Rep Westerman (R-AR) said. “My bill aims to fix those issues by giving the Forest Service the tools it needs to pro-actively use proven scientific, silviculture techniques to better manage our federal forest lands as well as reduce red tape.”

Active forest management practices, such as thinning through timber harvests, can greatly reduce the risk and severity of wildfires.  Due to frivolous lawsuits, the threat of lawsuits and agency stagnation, timelines for environmental analyses have increased from several months to several years for these projects, increasing costs and significantly curtailing the pace and scale of forest restoration initiatives.  

[M]anagement of public lands is our responsibility,” Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock (R-CA) stated. “We can no longer manage lands to prevent fire or even salvage dead timber once fire has destroyed it… That is on us. And that is about to change.”

Granger MacDonald, Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, attributes today’s high cost of purchasing a new home to the significant decrease in timber production. Due to extensive and costly environmental planning requirements, timber harvested from our national forests has dropped dramatically since the 1980’s.

“Even modest price increases in the cost of lumber can deny many American families an opportunity to achieve homeownership,” Macdonald stated. “Congress and the Administration can take positive steps to reduce the cost of housing by increasing the supply of domestically produced lumber from federal lands. Reducing the price of the average single-family home would help unlock pent-up housing demand and add fuel to the economy.”

The discussion draft streamlines wildfire and disease prevention projects and assures that fire-killed timber can be quickly removed to pay for reforestation and restoration of fire-damaged lands.  The legislation also streamlines onerous environmental review processes without sacrificing environmental protection.

Jim Neiman, CEO of Neiman Enterprises, testified that “litigation is a serious problem for the Forest Service,” and that the efforts of the USFS to “bullet-proof” environmental analysis documents simply “delays the eventual litigation, while dead and dying timber deteriorates.”  

The discussion draft minimizes the threat of these lawsuits by providing alternatives to resolve legal challenges against forest management activities, in lieu of litigation.

The discussion draft also undertakes a long-awaited solution to fire borrowing, a budgetary challenge whereby the Forest Service must transfer critical resources from other priorities to pay for increasingly costly wildfires. 

“Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike like healthy forests... There is no downside to a healthy forest. It’s a win-win-win,” Westerman said“If there’s anything we can agree on, it’s to take care of this treasured resource that we have.”

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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