My first bill, the Resilient Federal Forests Act, passed the House of Representatives on Thursday (July 9). It is bipartisan legislation that will give the Forest Service the tools it needs to better manage our national forests. As a professional forester, I see that our forests are no longer resilient due to overgrowth, wildfire, and disease.
President Teddy Roosevelt worked alongside Yale forester Gifford Pinchot to create our U.S. National Forests. I would credit these two as the fathers of our national forests. Roosevelt said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”
We have problems with our current forest policy that has left one of our most treasured natural resources, our federal forests, less resilient and decreased in value. My bill aims to fix these problems through proactive, scientifically sound management.
First, we have a problem of delayed decision making or even worse, no decision making at all. This is leaving our forests to the next generation decreased and impaired in value. This bill incentivizes collaboration and speeds up the implementation of collaborative projects. It safeguards a strong, timely environmental review process through categorical exclusions for forest management projects.
This bill also requires a more critical analysis of no-action alternatives by including potential consequences of overgrowth, disease or insect infestation, and wildfire in the alternative. No-action is a management decision because forests are not static, they are dynamic and our analysis of them should not be static.
We have a problem of not salvaging timber destroyed in catastrophic events, which makes the forest more dangerous for the next generation. It increases future wildfire problems and makes it difficult for reforestation. The bill also sets up requirements for salvage and reforestations plans in response to catastrophic events. It requires environmental assessments for salvage projects to be completed within 90 days so that timber can be removed while it is still commercially valuable.
The Forest Service would also have to implement greater reforestation in response to catastrophic events. Typically, less than 3% of an area is reforested — this policy requires 75% reforestation within 5 years.
We have a problem with frivolous lawsuits that hinder forest plans developed locally using science and best management practices that include stakeholder values. H.R. 2647 discourages frivolous lawsuits by requiring litigants to post a bond when suing to stop collaborative projects. If the plaintiff loses, they pay the taxpayer’s legal bills. If they win, they get their money back.
We have a problem in our rural communities that not only depend on our forests for their sustenance but also provide emergency services, education and support for the forests and residents who live near the forest. As our forests are decreased and impaired in value, our forest communities immediately suffer and will only suffer more in the future. This bill gives counties flexibility in spending Secure Rural Schools funding, and puts 25% of stewardship contract revenues into the county treasury where the project occurred. This is more money for our schools and other public services.
We have a problem when we don’t collaborate and work together with our neighbors and others who have expertise and resources to increase and not impair the value of our forest. This legislation brings in state and tribal governments as strong partners in forest management. It gives the Forest Service the authority to accept assistance from states willing to put money toward forest management. It also reinforces existing tribal authority to assist in the management of national forest lands adjacent to reservations.
Finally, we have a problem that is greatly decreasing and impairing the value of our forests for the next generation when we have to spend too much of our Forest Service budget for reactive fire suppression rather than proactive, sound management and fire prevention. H.R. 2647 ends the destructive practice of fire-borrowing in a fiscally responsible manner. It creates a subaccount under the Stafford Act specifically for fighting wildfire. This ensures resources to put out major fires are available when necessary.
Our national forests desperately need scientific management to become resilient again. In the words of President Roosevelt, “I call on us to behave well, to treat our forest resources as assets that we will turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired in value.”
I was pleased with Thursday’s 262-167 vote for the Resilient Federal Forests Act, and call on the Senate and President to act promptly to ease the burdens of the summer fire season.