WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, joined nine House colleagues Thursday at a Capitol Hill news conference urging passage of a sweeping bipartisan bill to improve forest health, combat catastrophic fires and restore sensible multiple-use management.
Labrador is an original cosponsor of the Resilient Federal Forests Act, H.R. 2936, which has passed the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. A similar bill passed the House in 2015, but the Senate did not act on that measure.
“We cannot wait any longer,” Labrador said. “The House should quickly pass this bill to restore multiple-use management and send it to the Senate. Failure to act guarantees one thing: more catastrophic fires in the West, less health, and less healthy forests.”
Labrador noted that for the second time in three years the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued a statewide burning ban, as air quality reached hazardous levels and forced Idahoans indoors.
“The tragedy is that Congress has known better,” Labrador said, citing the record-setting 10.1 million acres burned in 2015.
The 2017 fire season set a record for firefighting costs, at $2.4 billion, with 8.4 million acres consumed and eight active large fires still burning. Catastrophic fires cause significant environmental damage. For example, fires near Seeley Lake, Mont., this summer generated particulates exceeding the EPA’s safe limit by 18-fold.
Just 2.5 billion board feet were harvested on U.S. Forest Service lands in 2016, down from over 10 billion board feet in 1990. The result is hazardous fuels are estimated to be accumulating three times as fast as they can be treated. The Resilient Federal Forests Act would speed fire prevention efforts and remove impediments to sustainable management.
Labrador is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which approved H.R. 2936 in June.
The Forest Service says 30 percent of its land, about 58 million acres, is at high risk or very high risk of severe wildfire -- an area larger than Idaho. In the past 20 years, 349 people have died because of wildfires and in the past decade about 37,000 structures have been destroyed.
The Resilient Federal Forests Act simplifies procedural requirements and reduces planning times, while continuing to protect the environment. The bill provides incentives for collaboration, creates a pilot program to use binding arbitration to resolve legal challenges and accelerates habitat improvement for wildlife.
Currently 40 percent of Forest Service staff time is spent on planning, while more than 40 percent of lawsuits against the Forest Service are aimed at blocking active management. The average Environmental Impact Statement now takes more than 4 ½ years to complete.
Thursday’s news conference was hosted by the bill’s author, Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark. House leaders participating included Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah; Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. Others speaking were GOP Reps. Greg Gianforte of Montana; Paul Gosar of Arizona; Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock of California; and Dan Newhouse of Washington state.