In the wake of the bombshell 60 Minutes report on California’s Caldor Fire and the fate of Grizzly Flats, Americans want to know what the federal government is doing to reduce the risks of wildfire, as well as to contain fires before they burn out of control.
While the 60 Minutes report focused on an alleged failure to suppress a small fire that later turned disastrous, it also illustrated how proactive forest management can make a big difference. Unfortunately, it takes too long for the Forest Service to implement projects on the ground before the destruction of forests and communities can occur.
The U.S. Congress has provided the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with billions of dollars in new funding for hazardous fuel reduction and other management activities on federal lands. Now two key Senators have introduced bipartisan legislation to help ensure progress is being made on the ground.
Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) are the respective Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. They recently introduced the Promoting Effective Management Act that directs the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to utilize existing tools and resources to dramatically increase wildfire mitigation projects on National Forests and public lands, and to be transparent with the public about progress made. That’s because an NBC News report found the Forest Service was overstating its wildfire prevention progress to Congress despite decades of warnings not to.
Here are some key highlights of the bill:
Prioritize Accomplishments Over Rhetoric: By directing the Forest Service and BLM to set annual acreage targets for mechanical thinning projects on National Forests and public lands. Under the bill, agencies are to increase their acreage targets two to four times–consistent with the Administration’s 10-year wildfire strategy.
Increase the Use of Streamlined Authorities: In recent years, Congress has provided management agencies new policy tools to expedite forest management. By requiring the Forest Service and BLM to gain familiarity with their existing authorities (including existing categorical exclusions and emergency authorities) in order to increase their use. Currently, these authorities often go unused, significantly slowing down projects.
Manage Old-Growth and Mature Forests: By legislating that any attempts to redefine scientific terms (e.g., old-growth forests, mature forests) must be based in science and in law. For more on the folly of defining old growth forests, read our article here.
Report Forest Carbon Data: By requiring the Forest Service to report if the National Forests are absorbing more carbon than they are emitting (for example, from wildfires or disease-induced mortality). As we’ve reported in the past, data suggests tree mortality is exceeding net growth of our forests.
Include Local Perspectives in Litigation: By allowing counties to speak in court about the impacts on their communities of halting wildfire prevention projects in National Forests.
Fix a Loophole in Firefighter Retirement: By helping stop the current forfeiture of retirement benefits for those firefighters that wish to attend to things like maternity leave and have more than a 3-day break-in-service.
Prevent Further Declines in the Logging Workforce: By improving the quality and availability of logging workforce training and apprenticeship programs.
Change Forest Service Culture: By directing the Forest Service to encourage employees to become more rooted in their communities, thereby fostering better long-term partnerships between the agency and their state, local, and industry partners.
Read more analysis of the legislation here. And be sure to vote in the upcoming election on November 8!