Public Lands Council (PLC) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association(NCBA) hailed the U.S. House of Representative Natural Resources Committee’s passage of the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, H.R. 1526, legislation to prevent the continuation of catastrophic wildfire events by improving federal forest management. The bill, passed on a voice vote, was offered by Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) and includes prescriptive measures offered by various western congressional members whose districts are threatened by catastrophic wildfire and forest mismanagement.
According to PLC and NCBA, the wildfire and forest management package’s resounding passage through committee signals legislators’ recognition that current practices of federal forest and range management, combined with extreme drought, are creating dangerous and economically and environmentally damaging conditions across the West. PLC and NCBA specifically applauded the package’s inclusion of Rep. Paul Gosar’s (R-Ariz.) Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act, which was introduced as a stand-alone bill earlier in 2013. Rep. Gosar’s legislation would put hard deadlines on analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in those areas with excessive fuel loads, expediting livestock grazing and timber thinning for the purposes of hazardous fuels reduction while increasing forest and economic health.
“Decades of mismanagement have turned our U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands into a tinderbox,” said PLC President and Hesperus, Colo. rancher, Brice Lee. “Over the years, ranchers who count on the grass resources for their livelihoods have been told they must scale back grazing. Not only has this been economically damaging for their families and their communities, it has also contributed to a massive overload of fuel. H.R. 1526 sets this upside-down situation straight.”
According to Lee, the bill also includes measures from other congressional representatives that PLC and NCBA support. Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Colo.) Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act was also included in the package. Tipton’s bill takes further steps to reduce impediments to fuel-reduction projects brought by NEPA analysis.
NCBA President Scott George, a Cody, Wyo., rancher, stated that unless Congress gives this administration clear direction on forest and range management, the entire nation stands to lose important wildlife habitat, watersheds and production of food and fiber.
“It’s not just those of us in the West who will suffer if we don’t put federal land management back on course. Forty percent of the western cattle herd and over half the nation’s sheep spend some time on federal lands,” he said. “If the resources continue to go up in smoke, so does a huge portion of American livestock production. This hurts consumers everywhere.”
Both Lee and George urged the House to pass the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, H.R. 1526.
“We can’t afford to see another year like last year, where livestock were killed by wildfire, thousands of head had to be shipped to temporary pastures, and hay was in short supply,” said Lee. “But again, we’re facing very similar dry conditions this year. Swift passage of H.R. 1526 is of the essence.”