Solving America’s Catastrophic Wildfire Crisis

Nov 01, 2017 | communications •

“As the fire approaches, it can become surreal because of the way the smoke filters sunlight. It feels like you’re on a different planet. It can be eerie. The wall of flames can reach 20 to 150 ft. depending on what’s burning and move very quickly. When the fire’s moving, it can sound like a freight train. When you’re in a situation where houses are really starting to get hit, you can hear tires exploding or propane tanks blowing off. Especially seeing the results afterward, seeing stuff burned to white ash when there’s no remnant of what was there before, can be strange. It’s like Chernobyl; it’s just gone.”

-TIME: I Fight Wildfires. This is What It’s Really Like.

Fire season comes every year — it’s a natural part of life in the West. What’s not so natural, however, is how wildly destructive these wildfires have grown in recent years.

“Preventing fires begins with properly managing our natural resources, particularly our forests.”

-House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers

The truth is that when forests are properly managed, they are less likely to go ablaze. Think in terms of overgrown underbrush, or dead trees covering the forest floor. Scientifically speaking, ungroomed, unhealthy forests are more prone to catastrophic wildfires.

And there is cyclical pattern here that needs to be addressed.

We set a new record this year in fire suppression costs that broke the old record in 2015 that broke the previous record in 2012 that broke the previous record set in 2006. With each new season, wildfires continue to grow in breadth and destruction. This almost always results in the Forest Service being forced to raid its management accounts to pay for the firefighting costs, which results in less management, which fosters more frequent and intense fires.

See, a counterproductive and destructive cyclical pattern.

As of October 1, 2017, this year’s catastrophic wildfires have torched some 8.8 million acres, with more than 52,200 fires reported, 11.5 thousand structures lost, and an upwards of 30 deaths. The economic and environmental threats of this pattern cannot be ignored.

This is why the House passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 (H.R. 2936).

This bipartisan legislation pairs responsible budget fixes with targeted forest management reforms to dramatically improve the health and resilience of our nation’s forests and rangelands. The bill provides immediate tools to increase the pace, scale, and cost efficiency of forest management projects without sacrificing environmental protections.

The bill was introduced by the only forester in Congress, Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) and was spearheaded by the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture. The Resilient Federal Forest Act addresses the bureaucracy issues surrounding forest management today, and it champions resolutions that put important forest management decisions back in the hands of foresters and land managers as opposed to judges and lawyers.

So, what exactly is this bill addressing? A few things actually…

Forest Health

Forest Service employees are often forced to spend the majority of their time on paperwork, which jeopardizes the health of our nation’s forest system. H.R. 2936 provides federal land management agencies immediate tools to increase the pace and scale of forest management projects in order to improve our nation’s’ forest health.

Collaboration

Citizen-led groups seeking to develop publicly supported forest management decisions, also known as collaboratives, are constantly at risk of unnecessary delay from frivolous lawsuits. H.R. 2936 allows an expedited environmental review for collaborative projects up to 30,000 acres in size and requires analysis to be weighed against a “no action” alternative and the impacts of doing nothing.

Litigation

Obstructionist litigation is paralyzing the active management mission of our federal land managers which significantly increases the risk of severe wildfires. H.R. 2936 promotes the quick resolution by requiring opposing forest management activity to offer an alternative forest management proposal rather than just saying “no.”

Fire-Borrowing

When firefighting costs exceed the existing budget, the U.S. Forest Service transfers funds from vital forest management programs to pay for wildfire suppression. This practice is known as “Fire -Borrowing.” H.R. 2936 provides a fiscally responsible solution to end this practice without authorizing new mandatory spending and is still subject to oversight, appropriations and the Budget Control Act.

Protects Communities

Wildfires pose an increasing threat to private property, human safety and the environment. H.R. 2936 bolsters locally-led forest management and hazardous fuel reduction projects to improve forest health, lessen the severity and costs of fires and protect communities and the environment.

Solutions are needed when it comes to catastrophic wildfires. That’s why the House voted to pass this bipartisan legislation that will protect our forests, property and lives in the future.

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