Forest-thinning Measure Approved by Ag Committee

Published November 16, 2017

The House Agriculture Committee approved a proposed bill in October loosening environmental regulations for forest-thinning projects on Forest Service lands.

H.R. 2936, the “Resilient Federal Forests Act,’ sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), now moves on to the House, where Westerman said he expects it to be adopted.

Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) says the bill will provide the Forest Service with the tools it needs to combat increasingly more severe wildfires, which some scientists link to less-active management of forests in Western States.

Additionally, the White House is expected to request additional wildfire funding in a supplemental spending measure, according to Conway. Firefighting already consumes more than half of the Forest Service’s annual budget.

More Forests to be Thinned

The measure will expand the amount of forests which can be thinned with less oversight and expanded exclusions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These exclusions could apply to areas as large as 10,000 acres, or in some cases, as much as 30,000 acres, to deal with infestations, disease or risk of wildfire.

The measure also encourages arbitration, rather than lawsuits, to settle disputes over forest management projects, ending the awarding of lawyer” fees in lawsuits filed by environmental groups challenging logging and forest thinning efforts to reduce wildfire risks.

Westerman’s bill has wide support among Republicans but only sparse support from Democrats. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the committee’s highest ranking Democrat,  co-sponsored the bill saying he worries unless Congress acts, forest policies will be dictated by environmental activists who challenge agency decisions in court.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, Western lawmakers are working on their own measure to improve forest management and reduce wildfires in part by expediting and expanding forest thinning projects.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.