Washington - Today, House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) introduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act, a bipartisan bill to address the environmental and economic threats of catastrophic wildfires. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and 67 other members joined the bill as original cosponsors, and more than 85 organizations supported the legislation.
"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."
"I applaud Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Westerman, who has been a leader on public lands policy, for taking action to protect our natural resources through the Resilient Federal Forests Act," McCarthy said. "I am confident that reforms included in this bill will help to improve forest health so that future generations have the privilege of experiencing the great majesty of our national forests and other public lands."
"Wildfires can be devastating to our communities, but proper forest management can help reduce their devastating consequences," Scalise said. "I am proud to support the Resilient Federal Forests Act because this legislation will give land managers the tools they need to help prevent catastrophic wildfires In 2020, over 10 million acres of forest burned during wildfire season. This year, we are already on track to surpass previous records. The Resilient Federal Forests Act would increase the speed and scope of forest restoration projects in high-risk areas and expedite environmental analyses to tackle the declining health of our forests."
"Already this year, over a million acres have burned across the West," Newhouse said. "In my home state of Washington, more acres have burned to date than in all of 2020. We no longer have time for conversations about how we can prevent these catastrophic wildfires – we must act. We know that wildfire prevention goes hand-in-hand with restoring healthy and resilient federal forests, and I’m proud to cosponsor Ranking Member Westerman’s Resilient Federal Forests Act because this is the action we need."
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 ligation.
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.