WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), joined with Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), John Thune (R-SD), and Steve Daines (R-MT) to formally introduce S. 2068, the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017.
The legislation will enhance forest management to more effectively mitigate the severity of catastrophic wildfires. The bill will also provide increased protections for wildlife habitat threatened by wildfires. On October 23, 2017, the senators released a discussion draft of the legislation.
“In the West, we know the widespread destruction wildfires can cause,” said Barrasso. “Catastrophic fires have taken lives, destroyed homes, and devastated species. The bill we are introducing will make it simpler for local leaders to do fire-prevention projects. Forest managers need the flexibility to remove excess brush and dead wood that fuel these destructive wildfires. These fires have lasting impacts long after the flames have been put out. Our bill is a commonsense way to help protect both communities and wildlife.”
"I’m thrilled to see continued progress with this important legislation. Wildfire continues to decimate Western communities, ruining sources of drinking water, destroying property, and even claiming lives,” Hatch said. “I believe this proposal will strengthen the Forest Service’s ability to engage in wildfire prevention, which carries the added benefit of improving wildlife habitat. It is imperative that we to return to a more balanced approach to forest management, not just fire management. I am confident that this bill will help foster safer, healthier forests in Utah and across the West for years to come.”
“After nearly a quarter century of very-limited-to-hands-off forest management, federal forest fire suppression costs have continued to grow,” said Thune. “We must take immediate steps to improve the health of our nation’s forestland and be more aggressive and proactive in forest management. I believe this legislation offers several common-sense solutions that would help solve our problem of declining forest health by allowing land management professionals to use more 21st Century land management techniques. Efficient and effective land management makes forests more resilient and better able to withstand fire, pests, and diseases. This bill, which includes provisions I’ve previously introduced that would greatly expand categorical exclusions and measures to reduce litigation risk, is an important step in the right direction.”
“We have had one of the most devastating fire seasons this year across the West and in Montana,” said Daines. “We need forest management reform now to reduce the severity and intensity of wildfires and create more good-paying jobs.”
Specifically, the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017 will:
- Statutorily reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's Cottonwood decisions by codifying the position taken by the Obama administration that federal agencies are not required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at a programmatic level when new critical habitat is designated or a new species is listed;
- Direct the Department of Interior (DOI) to create a categorical exclusion (CE) for certain sage-grouse and mule-deer habitat vegetation projects that address areas affected by the encroachment of invasive pinyon and juniper trees;
- Direct the Department of Agriculture to create a CE for immediate action in critical response situations due to disease and insect infestations, threats to watersheds, and other high-risk areas;
- Call for streamlined environmental review for ecosystem restoration projects by requiring the U.S. Forest Service to consider only two alternatives during the planning process: an "action" alternative, and a "no action" alternative;
- Establish or modify CEs for wildlife habitat improvement, forest thinning, and insect and disease infestation; and
- Establish a five-year pilot arbitration process to allow alternative dispute resolution for forest activities that will result in binding decisions not subject to judicial review.
To view full text of the legislation, click here.
On September 27, 2017, the EPW committee held a hearing on “Forest Management to Mitigate Wildfires: Legislative Solutions.”
On October 25, 2017, the EPW Committee held a legislative hearing on the discussion draft entitled Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017.
A broad group of stakeholders have voiced support for the Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017. Local leaders, conservationists, outdoor enthusiasts and others have outlined their support for the legislation.
Stakeholders who support the legislation include: