Reform Federal Forest Management, Fix Wildfire Spending

Protecting America’s federally-owned forests from the risks of catastrophic wildfire, insects and disease is a bipartisan issue. Democrats and Republicans agree it’s time to take action. Will you join the effort?
Megafires on our national forests are threatening homes, property and public health. Unhealthy forests are contributing to higher fire suppression costs, draining the U.S. Forest Service’s budget and forcing the agency to raid funds intended for non-fire programs.
Over 8 million acres have burned in 2017, resulting in over $2.2 billion in fire suppression costs, making 2017 the most expensive year on record. Congress can restore our federal forests through science-based active forest management.

U.S. fire suppression costs over the past 10 years in the U.S. exceed $17 billion. Because total wildfire costs and economic damages can be up to 30 times greater than the reported suppression costs, the total cost could be over $500 billion. This is roughly the costs of 2017’s Hurricanes Harvey and Irma combined.

Many Americans suffer from hazardous air quality as they are exposed to wildfire smoke. The Centers for Disease Control finds that prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke and fine particulate matter pollution is linked to increased emergency department visits and hospital stays for breathing and heart problems.
Action is needed now to protect to our environment and economy, reduce wildfire suppression costs to taxpayers, and create more American jobs.
According to the U.S. Forest Service:
  • 60-80 million acres of national forest are at a high, to very high, risk of catastrophic wildfire.
  • The Forest Service only treats between 1 and 2% of high risk acres.
  • Over 1.1 million acres of national forest are in need of reforestation.
The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management need legal and policy tools to increase the pace and scale of forest management activities on federal land.  In addition to spiraling wildfire suppression costs, the agencies spend millions per year just to meet requirements under well-intentioned but counterproductive laws and regulations.
In fact, the Forest Service spends more than $356 million annually just to conduct NEPA analysis and compliance requirements on forest management projects. It typically takes 18 months to four years for federal agencies to develop and implement forest projects. Forest Service employees typically spend 40 percent of their time doing paperwork instead of managing forests.  Agency “analysis paralysis” is made worse by obstructive litigation from fringe groups, even on projects developed by forest collaboratives that represent diverse interests.
Even in today’s hyper-partisan political climate, Members of Congress are working together to restore the health of our public forests by passing meaningful solutions. The House Agriculture Committee has already unanimously passed the Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 2936).  Congress should pass this bipartisan legislation, the Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017 (S. 1731) or reforms in the 2018 Farm Bill that:
  • Reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, insect infestation and disease, and to protect municipal watersheds.
  • Remove dead trees after wildfires, creating new revenue to replant and rehabilitate burned forests.
  • Create young and mixed-age forest habitat to support wildlife.
  • Incentivize and fast-track forest projects developed by local collaboratives, usually consisting of conservationists, timber industry and elected officials.
  • Provide an alternative to costly and obstructive litigation from special interest groups.
  • Reduce the time and cost required to plan forestry projects, directing more funding to treat our forests.

Additional background:

Sixty-nine groups urge Congress to reform federal forest management and fix fire funding

U.S. Senate Western Caucus letter to Congressional leadership on need to reform federal forest management policies

Office of Management and Budget: Active forest management needed to address escalating wildfire suppression costs

Reform Federal Forest Management, Fix Wildfire Spending