Fires are raging across the western United States and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, has decided to act.
Westerman has introduced a bill that would stop “fire borrowing,” a practice employed by the U.S. Forest Service. The agency takes money out of its budget to fight the increasing number of fires, but can’t afford to perform the basic forest saving activities and maintenance that prevent fires in the first place, Westerman said. The net effect is that fires get worse each year as less maintenance is performed.
“This year, multiple natural disasters have hit the United States, leaving billions of dollars in damages across a large swath of land. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have dominated the headlines. As Americans monitor television and online reports of hurricanes, there’s little attention on the deadly and destructive fires across the West that have torched 8.5 million acres – nearly four times the land mass of Puerto Rico – sending millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere in massive smoke plumes that have closed schools, killed livestock, and created serious health issues for people living near and far from these fires,” Westerman said.
Westerman was joined by several representatives from western states including Natural Resources Committee Chair Rob Bishop R-Utah, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, and others.
The U.S. Forest Service set a new record this year in fire suppression costs that broke the old record set in 2015. The previous record was set in 2012, and that broke the previous record set in 2006. There is a pattern of failed practices that needs to change, he said. Forests continue to grow. Disease and insect infestations continue to spread. Fuel loads increase. Temperatures rise, humidity drops, and fires continue to explode in unmanaged forests.
“It is time for Congress to wake up and address the crisis that continues to burn as we speak,” he said. “I am calling on Congress to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. While ending fire borrowing, my bill gives the U.S. Forest Service the tools it needs to actively and scientifically manage our forests.”
“There is no downside to a healthy forest. They clean the air, filter water, improve wildlife habitat, enhance plant and animal biodiversity, create scenic landscapes, and can be an economic driver in rural communities through multiple uses including sport, recreation, and timber production,” he said.