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For fifth time, House passes Walden forest management bill

Senators seek $780 million in fire, forest funding

WASHINGTON - For the fifth time in five years, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Oregon, voted for House-passed legislation Wednesday to improve federal forest management and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires that ravage Oregon and much of the West every year. 

The Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2936), which Walden helped craft, addresses the growing economic and environmental threats of catastrophic wildfire that scorched over 678,000 acres of land across Oregon this year, a news release from Walden's office stated.

“My intensity on this issue is almost that of the fires we fight,” said Walden. “We can reduce the size and intensity of fire up to 70 percent, if we do the kinds of projects that thin out the forests and allow us to better manage and be better stewards of our federal forests that are contemplated as a result of this legislation.” 

Walden has led the call to action on forest management reform following a historic wildfire season in Oregon and across much of the West. The Resilient Federal Forests Act will bring proper management to federal lands in Oregon to improve the health and resiliency of forests, and reduce the unnatural fuel loads that increase the threat of devastating wildfires.

“In Oregon, this bill would take away an arbitrary prohibition on harvesting trees over 21 inches in diameter that’s tied the hands of forest managers,” continued Walden. “We clarify the timber production mandates of the unique O&C lands in southern and western Oregon to deliver the underlying statute and actually have it enforced. And when fires do happen, we would exchange this for a new, healthy forest and grow green trees that sequester carbon and restore a landscape that we in the West so enjoy,” concluded Walden, holding a jar of ash to illustrate the effects of catastrophic fires that Oregonians endure each summer.” 

The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 provides federal land management agencies immediate tools to increase the pace, scale and cost efficiency of forest management projects without sacrificing environmental protections. In crafting this legislation, Walden included several Oregon-specific provisions, including:

Streamlining project planning in southern and western Oregon

  • Removes costly and time-consuming Survey and Manage requirements on Northwest Forest Plan lands. These requirements cost the agency about $21 million annually and can take up to two years to complete, delaying needed fire prevention projects.
     

O&C Lands

  • The O&C Lands in southern and western Oregon are uniquely managed by the BLM for timber production under the requirements of the O&C Act. Timber harvests have lagged below these requirements and this legislation makes clear the O&C Act mandates at least 500 million board feet in annual timber harvest.

Improving forest restoration in eastern Oregon forests

  • Removes the arbitrary prohibition on harvesting trees over 21 inches in diameter that stands in the way of land managers and local collaborative efforts to restore forest landscapes. This prohibition was issued temporarily over 20 years ago, and never removed.

Promptly address the overcrowded, diseased and insect infested forest lands that pose a risk for catastrophic fire:

  • Streamlined planning process for projects up to 10,000 acres to treat forest stands suffering from insects and diseased trees, to reduce hazardous fuels, and to protect watersheds. To incentivize collaboration, this authority expands to 30,000 acres for collaborative or Community Wildfire Protection Plan projects that have had success in Oregon.
  • Ensures the Forest Service and BLM can promptly clean-up after wildfires by removing burned, dead trees and replant our forests following an Environmental Assessment. Includes requirements that the agencies replant 75 percent of the affected area. 
  • Creates a pilot program, allowing some forest projects to go through arbitration, cutting through litigious gridlock by requiring opponents to come to the table with an alternative proposal, rather than just saying “no.” 

The Resilient Federal Forests Act passed the House Wednesday on a bipartisan vote, and now awaits action in the Senate. For more information on this legislation, click here.

Meanwhile, Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., led a group of 10 Western senators strongly urging President Donald Trump and Senate leaders to include funding for wildfire disaster response in the next disaster aid package.

The letters to the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were also signed by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Jon Tester (D-MT).

Following a record-shattering fire season, the senators wrote, “As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.”

Specifically, the senators called for $200 million in funding for the Forest Service to restore and repair public lands and infrastructure damaged in this year’s natural disasters. They also called for a $580 million investment in thinning and other forest management to reduce fire-prone fuels and get ahead of future fires before the U.S. faces another devastating fire season.

“On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe wildfires,” the senators noted. “If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.”

The senators also called for a long-term fix to the problem of “fire borrowing,” in which the Forest Service must rob funds from other programs—including fire prevention—to pay for the cost of fighting fires in bad fire years.

The full text of the letters follows below.

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Dear President Trump:

This year wildfires have rampaged throughout the West, causing extensive damage from Montana and Idaho to Oregon and California. As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.

First, we must include $200 million in emergency funding to repair and replace public lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and hurricanes. Without this additional funding, the Forest Service will be forced to postpone or cancel projects in FY18 to accommodate the recovery effort. This jeopardizes essential work like the removal of hazardous trees for public safety, road and trail maintenance, restoring vegetation in watersheds, and rehabilitating wildlife and fish habitat. Failing to adequately fund recovery now will only lead to more fire disasters in the future.

Second, we must seize the moment and include $580 million in emergency funding to get ahead of future fires. Investing in vital forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects now will make our forests more resilient to catastrophic wildfire in the future. On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe wildfires. If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.

Finally, as you are already aware, it is critical that we repay any transferred funds to cover the cost of suppression and enact a permanent fix to the problem of fire-borrowing. We cannot provide disaster relief to other parts of the country without assisting the western states scorched by fire as well.

Sincerely,

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Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Minority Leader Schumer:

This year wildfires have rampaged throughout the West, causing extensive damage from Montana and Idaho to Oregon and California. As we continue to assist Texas, Puerto Rico and other parts of the country recover from damage caused by hurricanes so must we assist in the recovery of western states scorched by wildfire. It is critical to include additional disaster relief funding in the next aid package to help our communities recover and provide the Forest Service with additional resources to repair lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and reduce the threat of future wildfires.

First, we need to ensure the communities that have been directly and indirectly impacted by wildfire have access to programs to help their communities and economies recover. Programs administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD are critical to this recovery effort. However, a number of these programs are not nimble enough to help communities who endure hyper-localized damages. It is critical that appropriate adjustments are made to ensure these communities receive the help they deserve.

Second, we must include $200 million in emergency funding to repair and replace public lands and infrastructure damaged by wildfire and hurricanes. Without this additional funding, the Forest Service will be forced to postpone or cancel projects in FY18 to accommodate the recovery effort. This jeopardizes essential work like the removal of hazardous trees for public safety, road and trail maintenance, restoring vegetation in watersheds, and rehabilitating wildlife and fish habitat. Failing to adequately fund recovery now will only lead to more fire disasters in the future.

Third, we must seize the moment and invest $580 million to make our forests more resilient to catastrophic wildfire by investing in vital forest thinning and hazardous fuels reduction projects. On Forest Service land alone, 78 million acres are designated as moderate to high risk of severe fire. If we do not act quickly to fund the treatment of fire prone areas, the costs to fight and recover from these extreme fires will continue to grow.

Finally, as you are already aware, it is critical that we repay any transferred funds to cover the cost of suppression and enact a permanent fix to the problem of fire-borrowing. We cannot provide disaster relief to other parts of the country without assisting the western states scorched by fire as well.

Sincerely,


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