Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act reintroduced in the House

Mar 29, 2013

Last month’s wildfire in Fort Collins, CO, was a reminder of 2012’s historic fires, and a hint of what could lie ahead for 2013’s fire season if drought conditions persist. Last year’s destruction is weighing on the minds of many producers, and one congressman is hoping to get a national plan in place to help ranchers and landowners with fire mitigation.

U.S. Congressman Paul A. Gosar, D.D.S (AZ-04) introduced the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013, H.R. 1345, legislation that renews and reforms the government’s ability to partner with private industry to implement thinning and ecological restoration projects, streamlines the bureaucratic review process, and allows the U.S. Forest Service (US- FS) to partner with state foresters to treat national forest land. Currently, the bill has 13 co-sponsors.

Gosar said, “This bill would put people back to work in our national forests, restore the environment, and improve public safety. It also allows our government to partner with private industry, like what has been done with the White Mountain Stewardship Project and the Four Forest Restoration Initiative.” Gosar continued, “By cutting bureaucratic redtape and streamlining the review process, this bill ensures that projects can move forward quickly when the public is at-risk. As we anticipate another dangerous fire season, with minor fires in northern Arizona and Colorado already taking place, Congress must act now.”

“As local stewards of our land and precious natural resources, conservation districts remain concerned about the devastating impact of wildfires,” said Earl Garber, president of the National Association of Conservation Districts. “I am pleased with Congressman Gosar’s proactive proposal to provide local land managers with the tools they need to help combat and mitigate the effects of destructive wildfires on the landscape.”

Andy Groseta, president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA), said, “Fire season is fast approaching and we need our land managing agencies to return our working landscapes and manage for true multiple use. It is time to allow rural America to begin producing again. It is with legislation like this from Congressman Gosar that we will create jobs in the west while reducing the devastating effects of wildfires in our communities.”

Nearly 30 national and state multiple-use associations have supported Gosar’s bill, including the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association, the Arizona Natural Resources Conservation Districts State Association, and the Arizona Farm Bureau.

“Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of timber and thousands of animals, some endangered, are needlessly burned because of poor forest management.

“We need to restore the natural balance to our national forests and thin them and eliminate the accumulation of fuel,” said Gosar.

“Burn baby burn is fine on the dance floor, but that should not be the Forest Service´s plan of operation. My bill addresses this problem,” Gosar continued.

“This bill has bipartisan support and strong support throughout the west. We´ll be exploring all legislative options to get these solutions signed into law.”

Last week, the Public Lands Council (PLC), National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and ACGA expressed strong support for the act. This bill, familiar from the last session of Congress, facilitates an expedited process to reduce hazardous fuel loads on federal lands through livestock grazing and timber harvesting.

The bill proposes to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire on areas managed by the USFS and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identified as high-risk. It would streamline analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act in those areas, expediting fuels-reduction activities such as livestock grazing and timber thinning. When threatened or endangered species are at risk, it would also allow for hazardous fuels-reduction projects to go forward under existing emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, it adds to last year’s legislation by including contract stewardship and good neighbor authority measures, which facilitate the completion of forest management projects through public-private partnerships and cooperation with state governments.

PLC President Brice Lee and NCBA President Scott George agreed that the bill addresses the significant issue of catastrophic wildfire in the west by reducing administrative delays, expediting forest management processes, and encouraging better forest health and economic development.

“Last year, more than 9 million acres were burned in one of the worst fire seasons this country has seen in the last few decades. In that scenario, everyone bears the burden of habitat loss— ranchers, western communities, wildlife and the taxpayer, to name a few,” Lee said. “We hope that Congress acts swiftly and moves forward with passing this legislation so that ranchers and entire communities do not remain vulnerable during what may be another devastating fire season this year.”

George added that fires threaten both rural and urban communities and impair the watersheds the public depends on.

“The red tape beleaguering USFS and the BLM when addressing wildfires is endangering the lives and operations of livestock producers, threatening the natural resources the public depends on, and hindering economic growth,” said George.

Groseta spoke to the grassroots process that brought about this critical need for a streamlined agency process.

“In 2011, ACGA members developed the Save Arizona’s Forest Environment plan that gained support from dozens of cities, towns, counties and other organizations locally and nationally. The residents of rural America recognize the need to return our forests back to true working landscapes governed by responsible multiple-use management,” he said. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor