Press Releases

Jaime Herrera Beutler Advances Bill to Restore Forest Health in Struggling Federal Forests

Improves funding process for fighting wildfires, strengthens wildfire prevention and provides more diverse forest habitat for “early seral” species

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Washington, DC, July 9, 2015 | comments
Today, Jaime Herrera Beutler helped the U.S. House advance the Resilient Federal Forests Act, bipartisan legislation that includes several efforts Jaime has championed that will benefit Pacific Northwest forests.
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Today, Jaime Herrera Beutler helped the U.S. House advance the Resilient Federal Forests Act, bipartisan legislation that includes several efforts Jaime has championed that will benefit Pacific Northwest forests. The bill corrects the funding process for funding wildfire disasters, allows the Forest Service to approve projects that reduce fire risk, extends Secure Rural Schools authorization through 2020 and improves “early seral” habitat for elk and other wildlife.

“Our communities in Southwest Washington are tied to the legacy of the magnificent forests that surround us, and that’s a legacy we have the responsibility to protect,” said Jaime. “Over the last 20 years, our federal forests have lacked effective management which has left them susceptible to overgrowth, disease, and catastrophic wildfires. I’m pleased to move forward this legislation that will help turn the tide and create healthy forests using thinning projects to prevent catastrophic wildfires, create important “early seral” habitat for deer and other small animals and provide certainty for schools in timber communities. This is a good working framework for the overall national forest, even though it does not address all of the circumstances faced in forests in Western Washington. This bill is an excellent start, and I will continue to prepare my own legislation to protect the health of our region’s federal forests for generations to come.”

Wildfire fighting and prevention
In eight of the last ten years, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have exhausted all wildfire suppression funding. Currently, when this happens, they must ‘borrow’ from other non-fire accounts to pay for wildfire suppression. This practice further harms the forests by stripping funds intended for management activities, and actually leaves forests more susceptible to longer, more intense fires. This bill ends this problem by allowing FEMA to transfer limited emergency funds to the Forest Service when all other wildfire funding has been exhausted.

The bill also includes categorical exclusions for thinning projects to reduce the threat of wildfire in high risk areas.  This will allow the Forest Service to more quickly approve harvest projects that will protect forest communities, watersheds and wildlife from catastrophic wildfires.

Improving reforestation and habitat
Jaime has worked with the U.S. House Natural Resources, the committee behind the Resilient Federal Forests Act, to specifically outline management practices in the bill to focus on “early seral” habitat which houses hundreds of plant and animal species like mice, elk, deer, and birds.  Early seral habitat also provides food sources for the Spotted Owl.  However, due to lack of forest management, this habitat is rapidly disappearing.

The bill allows counties to receive 25% of the revenues from stewardship contracting, as they do through timber sales.  This is will be another way to improve public safety and services in the counties that so desperately need it.   

The bill also expedites the permitting process for salvaging timber and reforesting after fires that, in addition to providing ecological benefits to the damaged ecosystems, will boost local economies.  This prohibits legal maneuvers by extremist lobbying groups to allow this timber to sit and rot – a ploy designed to freeze restoration projects.

Secure Rural Schools authorization
The Resilient Federal Forests Act extends Secure Rural Schools authorization through 2020.  Jaime also worked to successfully include in the bill a provision that prevents the state from withholding a portion of the timber counties’ payments to fund nonrelated state initiatives. 

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