Friday, June 19, 2015

Support Growing for Resilient Federal Forests Act

by Rep, Bruce Westerman, AR-04: This week, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 made its way through the House Committee on Agriculture, bringing it one step closer to a vote on the House floor. At the same time, I have been hearing from individuals and groups from across the nation in support of this common sense legislation that will promote proper forest management techniques, promoting thriving and healthy forests in Arkansas and across the country.

One of the individuals I have heard from in recent weeks is Joe Fox. Joe is the Arkansas State Forester, a consummate professional in the field who sees firsthand the role over-regulation and frivolous lawsuits play in forest fires.

In Joe’s letter to me, he very clearly made the case for why my legislation is so necessary for foresters in the field.

“The USFS (United States Forest Service) works hard to deliver critically needed management on NFS lands, but they are hampered by cumbersome regulations, administrative costs, declining budgets, and the increasingly common practice of ‘fire borrowing,’” he said in a letter.

For those of you not involved in professional forestry, the term “fire borrowing” refers to taking monies from one critical program in order to pay for firefighting in the national forests. It causes the government to rob from Peter to pay Paul and it is not sound policy.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act is designed to put proper management practices in place to lessen the risk of wildfire, which in the long run will save money, save property, and save lives. Joe recognizes these benefits.

“I applaud your efforts to identify and directly address the barriers currently preventing the USFS from doing more to proactively address these threats,” he wrote.

Joe also noted the bill’s focus on collaboration between the private and public sectors, as well as different governments, to properly manage the forests in an expedited fashion.

“As a member of the Ouachita and Ozark Highlights CFLRP (Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program) as well as the Western Arkansas Woodland Restoration effort, the Arkansas Forestry Commission is supportive of any efforts to get the good work from these groups accomplished on the ground more efficiently,” he said.

Joe Fox is not the only individual to have expressed support for this bill. But as a local forester, I believe he can best explain to you – his fellow Arkansans – the benefit of this bill. Others have reached out to my office, including El Dorado County in California, the National Association of Counties, the National Water Resources Association, the California Agriculture Commissioners and Sealers Association, and the Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities Coalition. The bill is even receiving bi-partisan support, with House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) saying yesterday[1] that this bill will stop environmental groups from actually doing more harm to our forests by filing frivolous lawsuits aimed at stopping proper forest management in the name of “environmentalism” by requiring a bond in order to file a lawsuit aimed at stopping controlled burns and other forest management practices. The bond would cover the costs of legal fees for the Forest Service, though it would be refundable should the plaintiff prevail in court.

“For some time now I’ve been concerned with the regulations stemming from lawsuits. Environmental groups have used the court system to twist laws against agriculture which then leads to policy changes decided by activists and bureaucrats. This ‘sue and settle’ strategy means a less transparent, less accountable process,” Peterson said. “This bill would simplify forest management activities as a means to reduce some of this behavior.”

Thanks to Joe Fox and Congressman Collin Peterson for their support, as well as the more than 40 other groups from across the nation who have expressed support for the Resilient Federal Forests Act. It is only with a bi-partisan coalition that this bill can continue moving its way to an eventual vote on the House floor in coming months.

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