Forest management legislation encourages thinning and burns

Forest thinning provisions championed by House Republicans did not make it into the final Farm Bill, but Rep. Westerman, R-Ark., made one more attempt to advance the debate before the end of the Congressional session. He recently introduced the “Protecting American Communities from Wildfire Act,” H.R. 7315, which would encourage forest management projects in forests prone to wildfire.

As wildfires have raged across the West, forest management tools and wildfire prevention strategies — as well as how to pay for them — have been a frequent topic of debate on Capitol Hill. The new legislation would streamline forest management projects, such as thinning or prescribed burns, by creating a categorical exclusion, or exemption, from the National Environmental Policy Act for forest management projects at the wildland-urban interface. It would also block such projects from judicial review.

The bill would also increase the funding provided to states via grants from the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, from $80 million a year to $100 million a year. The funding would be distributed as block grants for proactive fire strategies and community assistance.

A new report from the Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils and the National Association of State Foresters shows that the use of prescribed fires nationwide has decreased since 2011, when 12.8 million acres were burned. In 2017, that number was only 11.3 million acres. Over the past several years, the use of prescribed fire increased in the West but decreased in the Southeast and Northeast.

Similar reports were published in 2011 and 2014, allowing authors to identify trends across time. This year, weather was determined to be the most common challenge faced by those wishing to treat acres with prescribed fire, followed by capacity and air quality concerns. “With a downward trend in national prescribed fire usage since 2011, it is imperative that we examine regional and national challenges to prescribed fire usage and begin to develop strategies to overcome these obstacles,” the report concludes.

The forest management bill was referred to the House Natural Resources Committee but did not advance beyond the committee in the last few days of this Congress and will need to be reintroduced next year.

Read TWS’ Position Statement on Conservation and Management of Old-growth Forest

On the Pacific Coast of North America.

Header Image: New legislation encourages forest management projects, such as prescribed burns. ©USFWS