Westerman Introduces The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019

May 8, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) introduced The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019, a solution to the growing economic and environmental threats of catastrophic wildfire. U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-Penn.), Chris Stewart (R-Utah), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Don Young (R-Alaska), Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), Paul Cook (R-Calif.), John Curtis (R-Utah), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), Russ Fulcher (R-Ida.), Greg Walden (R-Ore.), Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) cosponsored the bill.

“We have quite literally loved our trees to death. Forests going up in flames and releasing tons of carbon into the atmosphere is not true conservation; proactive, sound forest management is. Years of mismanagement have led to insect infestation, overstocked stands and dead and decaying trees. It’s time to allow the Forest Service to use proven, scientific methods when managing our forests,” Westerman said. “Arkansas has seen drought conditions and more environmental stress, but at the same time, we haven’t seen an increase in the number or intensity of forest fires. If changing climate was the only thing that increased wildfires, surely we would see an increase in the number and intensity in my state. However, because we actively manage our public and private forests, the state has a thriving and expanding forest economy. Sound forest management makes a drastic difference in the health of a forest, which is why I believe The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 is so important. I’m grateful to my colleagues who have already cosponsored the bill, and look forward to moving this legislation forward.”

“In the wake of a historically tragic 2018 fire season, and with the 2019 wildfire season fast approaching, our need for proactive forest management has never been greater,” Bishop said.The Resilient Federal Forests Act brings to the table a solution to our growing wildfire crisis. Specifically, this legislation couples strategic forest management reforms with regulatory streamlining to empower our land management agencies to restore health and resiliency to our nation’s forests. The prospect of this bill passing is already far outpacing our odds of receiving a solution from the Democrats.”  

“Due to a great lack of active management over the years, we continue to see less healthy national forests, increased overgrowth and hazardous fuels build up,” Thompson said.The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 is a vital piece of legislation for the Forest Service, allowing for more authority and flexibility for improved forest management. It is imperative that federal and state agencies are equipped with the tools necessary to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfires, insect and disease infestation, and damage to municipal watersheds. I applaud Rep. Westerman for introducing this common-sense legislation to encourage healthy forests and prevent future forest fires.”

“2017 was one of the worst wildfire seasons in history with 71,499 fires burning approximately 10 million acres. The Forest Service spent more than $2.5 billion on suppression costs in the 2017 fiscal year alone - a new record. 2018 was another terrible fire season with 58,083 wildfires burning approximately 8.8 million acres. The Camp Fire was the costliest disaster in the world last year, costing more than $12.5 billion in insured losses, claiming 88 lives and destroying nearly 19,000 structures, roughly 14,000 of which were homes. Mismanagement by federal agencies has left our forests vulnerable to insects and disease and ripe for catastrophic wildfires. The system is broken, has resulted in the loss of life and significant harm to our communities,” Gosar said. “We need additional forest management authorities and resources for active management and we need them now. If Congress does not act, more lives and property will be lost. This legislation, proposed by my good friend and colleague Rep. Westerman, will allow the federal government to take important steps to actively manage forest ill-health, insect mortality and invasive species. This bill also removes the bureaucratic hurdles previously standing in the way. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle often exaggerate the impacts of carbon dioxide, but the facts are, the best way to sequester carbon is through healthy forests. Currently, our forests are overgrown and in poor condition. This legislation will get us back on the road to good forest health. I applaud Rep. Westerman for his leadership and implore House leadership to move this common sense bill that will save lives.”

“Too often, we have watched in horror as tragic wildfires have burned across our western states. It is long past time for us to pursue new strategies in forest management,” Young said. “I am proud to support The Resilient Federal Forests Act to better equip our agencies with the tools they need to properly manage our forests to prevent the catastrophic property damage and heartbreaking loss of life experienced by too many families in the path of wildfires. I thank Congressman Bruce Westerman for his leadership on this issue, and encourage my colleagues to join in this important effort.”

“The Camp Fire, in my district, was the costliest natural disaster in the world last year. It completely devastated the town of Paradise and surrounding areas, destroying over 18,000 structures and killing 85 people. It was one of the worst wildfires California has ever seen,” LaMalfa said. “Earlier in the year, the Carr Fire took 8 lives and burned nearly 230,000 acres in Shasta County. These two fires alone should serve as a wakeup call to those who have denied responsible forest management practices in California. Until we take meaningful steps to make our forests more resilient, much of the West will be at high-risk of future devastating fires. Legislation like the Resilient Federal Forests Act can help save lives and billions of dollars – giving firefighters and local personnel the tools they need to contain and extinguish a fire before it gets out of hand.”

“After last year’s horrific wildfires in California, it’s clear we need to do more to combat the threat of wildfires and minimize the damage done to the environment,” Cook said. “This legislation implements common-sense reforms to ensure the long-term health of our forests. I look forward to working with Congressman Westerman to advocate for this bill as it moves through Congress.”

“Last year, Utah had some of the largest fires in the state’s history. Though I was proud of my constituents who stepped up and volunteered time and resources to fight the fires, behind the camaraderie there was an underlying frustration that these fires should have been prevented in the first place,” Curtis said. “I’m pleased to support this legislation that provides tools to streamline forest management projects without having to compromise environmental protections.”

“Knowing firsthand what it is like to look into the eyes of a family who has lost everything in a wildfire, I want to ensure that we are as proactive as possible in identifying and addressing the sources of the problem,” Hunter said. “Now is the time to act on proper forest and land management, not when there is an emergency. I support the Resilient Federal Forests Act and encourage House leadership to expedite its passage.” 

“Excess timber comes out of our forests in two ways: we take it out, or wildfires burn it out. This legislation sees to the former, and helps to prevent the latter,” McClintock said.

“Colorado is fortunate to have over 7.1 million acres of forested lands, many of which are managed by the U.S. Forest Service and BLM. Unfortunately, many of these forests have been devasted by fires in recent years due to drought and insect infestation,” Tipton said. “These threats are exacerbated by a lack of proactive forest management. Providing federal agencies with the tools they need to engage in proactive management strategies will ensure that communities and wildlife habitat are protected and these forest lands are around for future generations to enjoy. I am glad to be a cosponsor of this important legislation.”

“Year after year, we watch as over 600,000 acres of federal land in Idaho are burned by wildfires. The mismanagement of this land, owned by federal agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, Fish and Wildlife Services, and the Forest Service, produces the perfect environment for these devastating fires and can no longer be tolerated,” Fulcher said. “I am very appreciative to Rep. Westerman for his leadership on the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019, and have joined his efforts as a co-sponsor.”

“Oregonians and people across the West are preparing for yet another summer of air-choking smoke from yet another devastating wildfire season. We cannot allow this to become the new normal and cannot allow the status quo of failed forest management policy to continue. Enough is enough,” Walden said. “Studies from the Nature Conservancy and Forest Service tell us that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that active forest management will have the largest sustained carbon mitigation benefit. We should follow the science on forest policy reform to improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire, and that’s exactly what this bill does. This legislation ensures that we are able to use proven forest management tools across all of Oregon’s forests, including in southern Oregon where we have seen the most devastating wildfires over the last several years. This bill also would ensure that we go in after a fire to clean up the burned, dead trees while they still have value and replant a new, healthy forest for the next generation. We made significant improvements to the way we manage our forests last year, but there is much more work to be done. This bill builds on that progress, bolsters the resiliency of our forests to fire, and will help grow and protect Oregon’s communities.”

“As Montanans prepare for another wildfire season, they remember 2017 when wildfires burned more than 1.2 million acres across our state,” Gianforte said. “We’ve made progress to reduce the severity of wildfires, but there’s more we can and should do. The Resilient Federal Forests Act builds upon what we accomplished last year. The bill makes critical reforms to prevent wildfires, improve reforestation efforts, promote collaboration at the local level, and end frivolous lawsuits as we know them. These are common sense reforms that will make our forests healthier, reduce the severity of our wildfires, improve wildlife habitat, and get our timber workers back to work.”

“Wildfires are a threat to public lands, public health, and human life, and in 2014 and 2015, Central Washington experienced the worst wildfires in state history. Five years later, communities in the 4th District are still recovering, and unfortunately, my constituents are not alone,” Newhouse said. “Regions across the country have continued to experience catastrophic fires because they do not have the tools or the resources to promote and maintain healthy federal forests. Rep. Westerman is a forester who truly understands the importance of active forest management, and I am proud to cosponsor his legislation to finally take steps to recover our federal forests and prevent future wildfires.”

“South Dakota is blessed with the beauty and resources of the Black Hills National Forest. With that blessing comes the responsibility to properly manage the landscape to create resilient, healthy forest,” Johnson said. “Those responsibilities are evident as my state continues to recover from the Mountain Pine Beetle devastation. I’m pleased to join Rep. Westerman in introducing the Resilient Federal Forests Act, which will give the Forest Service the tools they need to properly manage our forest for generations to come. Too often, worthwhile projects supported by local collaborators are needlessly delayed. This bill will give the good folks at the Forest Service the ability to do what they do best – manage our forest.”

Industry leaders and stakeholders also issued statements in support of The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019.

“Congressman Westerman is the only professional forester in Congress. The provisions in The Resilient Federal Forest Act are needed more now than ever to restore the health of our forests. Millions of board feet of timber and thousands of acres of forest health treatments are held up in litigation across the country. The need to actively manage our forests and keep our mills running has never been more apparent. We look forward to working with Rep. Westerman to move this bill to the Senate and the President.” – Chuck Roady, vice president and general manager, F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber

“Members of the American Loggers Council are in support of The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019. While Congress has championed efforts to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration efforts in the past, there are still areas that are in need of attention in order to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and help prevent the loss of lives, property as witnessed last year in and around Paradise, California and other Western States. … Our national forests are one of this country’s greatest assets. We believe that members of Congress should be concerned about the overall health of those forests and the need to restore and improve those forests as quickly as possible by giving the US Forest Service and other agencies all of the tools that they need to accomplish that task.”Daniel Dructor, executive vice president, American Loggers Council

Background

The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 pairs targeted forest management reforms with needed regulatory streamlining to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of forests and rangelands. The bill provides federal land management agencies immediate tools to increase the pace, scale and cost efficiency of forest management projects, without sacrificing environmental protections. Westerman introduced similar legislation in the 115th Congress with bipartisan support, and several provisions were signed into law as part of the omnibus and Farm Bill packages.

The bill utilizes tools that the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can implement immediately to mitigate insect and disease infestation, prevent damage to municipal watersheds and critical infrastructure, quickly harvest wildfire-killed trees to pay for reforestation and improve the health of forests and grasslands to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire. 

It also streamlines environmental reviews of projects for the removal of dead trees to pay for reforestation after large wildfires, requires an Environmental Assessment for a reforestation project, and encourages and speeds wildlife habitat improvement for wild turkey, ruffed grouse, elk, deer and other “early seral” forest-dependent species.

Click here to read the full bill text.

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