The WV Loggers Council is now a signatory to the following letter, at the request of the American Loggers Council. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR) introduced a new version of the Resilient Federal Forests Act on Tuesday, June 20th. The bill is intended to streamline the management of the National Forests, specifically by reducing the NEPA and ESA burdens on the Forest Service while providing specific new categorical exclusions to expedite needed forest management. The bill also provides access to emergency funds for wildfire suppression, once on-budget suppression funds have been exhausted. In short, it provides both management flexibility and a fix to the fire funding problem which has plagued the agency for more than a decade. The House Natural Resources Committee will mark up the bill today. The Committee is looking for external support for the bill in the short term.
Dear Chairman Bishop & Ranking Member Grijalva:
We write to you today in strong support of HR 2936, the bipartisan Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. Our federal forests are facing serious threats from fires, insects, and diseases due to lack of active forest management. The poor health of our federal forests also threatens wildlife habitat, watersheds, and neighboring non-Federal lands, as well as the vitality of rural, forested communities across the country. HR 2936 contains provisions intended to both address the disruption caused by fire borrowing and to expedite needed forest management to improve the health and vitality of our federal forests.
The Resilient Federal Forests Act provides Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) under the National Environmental Policy Act will allow needed forest management projects to be more quickly prepared, analyzed, and implemented. It will also allow forest recovery projects to proceed more quickly, addressing a dire need created by recent wildfire seasons. The Forest Service has long experience with management techniques to reduce forest pests, thin hazardous fuels, create and maintain habitat for species, recover damaged timber and protect water quality. These projects mitigate risk and help create early successional forest habitat which is good for wildlife.
The Forest Service does more complex NEPA documentation than most other Federal agencies, and even after years of collaboration, frequently finds itself in court where judges scrutinize procedural issues, delaying needed management, sometimes for years. The Resilient Federal Forests Act addresses the complex, court-imposed NEPA burden that has been forced on the Forest Service, while preserving collaborative efforts and avoiding sensitive forest lands.
HR 2936 addresses both the excessive analysis requirements imposed on even modest forest management projects, as well as the dysfunctional system of funding suppression costs out of forest management program accounts. Provisions in the bill limit the acreage of Categorical Exclusions, and prohibits their use in sensitive areas. The legislation provides access to the disaster relief fund for wildfire suppression expenses in excess of the 10-year average.
The House acted on a similar, bipartisan bill in 2015. The need for action to address forest health conditions on our national forest system is even higher today. Wildfire suppression funding mechanisms developed in the past are no longer adequate to address the conditions we are experiencing. We urge to take up and pass HR 2936 as quickly as possible. We stand ready to work with both of you advance responsible solutions to these serious national problems.
Sincerely, West Virginia Loggers Council et al