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Herrera Beutler Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Improve Forest Health, Mitigate Wildfires

Today, Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03) helped introduce the Resilient Federal Forests Act, bipartisan legislation aimed at curbing the threat of wildfires. Through speeding up essential forest management projects by ending frivolous litigation, accelerating reviews for removing dangerous hazard trees, and giving the U.S. Forest Service the tools to restore watersheds and improve wildlife habitat, this solution would boost forest health and reduce the conditions for devastating fires. 

House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), the only professional forester currently serving in Congress, is the bill’s lead sponsor and is joined by Republican and Democrat cosponsors.

“Our Southwest Washington communities know the great threat that fire- and disease-prone forests pose, which underscores the dire need for more active forest management to help reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires,” Herrera Beutler said. “The lack of active management on the part of the federal government has resulted in abundant brush and decaying and dead trees that act as overgrown kindling, contributing to the disastrous wildfires that have taken lives, destroyed homes and businesses, and decimated our beautiful forests. I’m helping introduce this legislation to help us have cleaner air and water, keep our communities safe from the ravages of wildfire and protect our precious forests and species throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

"Record-breaking wildfires in the West repeatedly highlight the need for proactive, scientific forest management,"
Westerman said. "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. Look at places like my home state of Arkansas where drought conditions and environmental stress haven’t been coupled with an increase in the number or intensity of forest fires. Why? Because Arkansas has a robust and prosperous forest economy through which we actively manage both our public and private forests. Science shows forest management drastically improves the health of a forest, which is why the Resilient Federal Forests Act is so important. Every year we delay action means more lives, homes, property and wildlife habitats are destroyed by wildfires. There is no time to waste."

Background

More than 80 million acres of national forests are overgrown, fire-prone, and in dire need of active management. The Resilient Federal Forests Act restores forest health, increases resiliency to wildfire, and supports the economic revitalization of rural communities.

Key provisions of the bill include:

  • Utilizing state-of-the-art science to triage the top 10 percent of high-risk firesheds.
  • Simplifying and expediting environmental analyses to reduce costs and planning times of critical forest management projects while maintaining thorough environmental reviews.
  • Speeding up essential forest management projects by ending frivolous litigation.
  • Giving the Forest Service the necessary tools to restore watersheds, improve wildlife habitat and protect critical infrastructure and public safety in wildland-urban interfaces.
  • Accelerating reviews for salvage operations and reforestation activities to encourage quick reforestation, remove dangerous hazard trees and economically revitalize rural areas.
  • Incentivizing collaborative projects of up to 30,000 acres to increase the pace and scale of active management. 
  • Creating new, innovative authorities that increase tribal management of forestlands.
  • Codifying the principles of shared stewardship and permanently reauthorizing the Good Neighbor Authority to ensure states are equal partners in forest management activities.
  • Removing cumbersome interagency consultation requirements that delay forest management activities and attract obstructionist litigation.
  • Expanding and improving existing authorities to address insect and disease infestations and increase resiliency to wildfires.

Read the full bill here.