Some House lawmakers are calling for a change in policy to help prevent wildfires.
“Active forest management is needed to stop the spread of catastrophic wildfires,” Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., said in a recent statement.
“Irreplaceable natural resources and human lives are at stake, and we must focus on the immediate solutions available. It is time for members of both parties in the House and Senate to work together to pass the Resilient Federal Forests Act.”
Wildfires are spreading across California, covering over 115,000 acres of land, destroying 1,500 buildings, and forcing residents to evacuate from 5,000 of their homes, according to the Los Angeles Times. So far, the state has reported 15 people dead.
According to the Congressional Western Caucus, 2017 has had “one of the worst wildfire seasons in history,” destroying over 8.4 million acres of land and leaving 80 million more at high risk in the U.S. Members of the caucus called last month for forestry reforms to prevent future wildfire disasters.
The bill, introduced by Westerman, is designed to tighten forest management. The legislation includes measures to require litigations against forest management projects to provide an alternative management proposal and would “increase the pace and scale of forest management projects.”
According to the House Committee on Natural Resources, “the bill streamlines onerous environmental review processes to get work done on the ground quickly, without sacrificing environmental protection.”
“Backwards forest management policies have [caused] public land management agencies to allocate time, energy, and resources on the back-end trying to put out massive wildfires that are already blazing,” Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., said in a statement in September. “Anyone with a medical background knows the importance of working to prevent a problem, rather than just treating it.”
But some oppose the bill. In a hearing in June held by the House Natural Resources subcommittee on federal lands, former Forest Service Deputy Chief Jim Furnish said the bill undermines other environmental issues, such as the carbon crisis and fish preservation.
“This bill seeks to take us back to the old days when logging dominated public lands,” Furnish said in prepared testimony. “That policy proved bankrupt socially and legally. The bill essentially creates a series of workarounds by legislating fixes to nonexistent problems, unless you see national forest lands primarily as timber farms.”