Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Resilient Federal Forests Act

House Committee Passes Resilient Federal Forests Act

Washington—The US House of Representatives passed a bill that makes it easier to harvest timber burned in wildfires.

Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) introduced the bipartisan bill to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and dramatically improve the health of federal forests and rangelands and implements a more responsible funding stream.

“For too long, the Forest Service has had to borrow from prevention programs in order to fight fires, meaning that we risk leaving a heavy fuel load in the forests for future fires to burn. As the legislative process continues, I look forward to working with Congress as we all seek a comprehensive solution to put America’s forest back to work again,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

H.R. 2936 permanently ends the practice of transferring forest-management funds to firefighting, or “wildfire borrowing,” by allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to transfer funds to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The bill would also streamline environmental review to speed reforestation, and supports collaborative efforts between local governments and foresters and land managers.

The bill also modernizes the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act, which allows rural counties, including Idaho County in Idaho, to have greater flexibility over how they choose to use critical funding under the Secure Rural Schools program. While Congress stipulates that a portion of revenues from timber harvests on federal lands go to affected counties to support schools, roads, and other services, that funding has declined as timber harvests have shrunk.

“This is a great news for many rural schools,” said Mark Naugle, superintendent of Custer School District. “This legislation will help to make up for the decrease in revenue from local timber harvesting. It will also help to offset the impact of federal ownership of property in local school districts.”

Westerman urged ending the practice of borrowing funds to pay to fight wildfires and for treating wildfires as natural disasters funded through recovery efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“This year has proven to be another catastrophic year for wildfires. Dozens of lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and millions of acres burned. Congress spoke today and said enough is enough,” Westerman said.

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