Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Vice-Chair Reintroduces Resilient Federal Forests Act

Highlights

  • On July 22, Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus Vice-Chair Representative Bruce Westerman (AR) reintroduced the Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 4641).
  • A previous version of HR 4641 passed the House of Representatives on a bipartisan vote but failed to advance in the Senate.
  • As wildfires continue to annually plague western communities and negatively impact forest, fish, and wildlife resources, the need to increase the pace and scale of active forest management is greater than ever.

Why it Matters: The Resilient Federal Forests Act would improve wildlife habitat, reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, and restore watersheds through targeted landscape-level restoration projects on federal lands and properties in the wildland-urban interface.

The lack of active forest management on federal lands has created tens of millions of acres of overstocked forests and stands with dangerously high fuel loads that erupt into large wildfires degrading wildlife habitat, clogging streams with sediment, and destroying communities. Instead of having the resiliency to withstand wildfire, which fire-prone landscapes have historically withstood, federal lands are now more susceptible to catastrophic wildfire, often in contrast to nearby or adjacent lands under different management regimes, because of policies and litigation that limit forest management.

To address these limitations, the Resilient Federal Forests Act would provide the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Tribes with additional tools to facilitate increased levels of active management, including prescribed fire, to reduce the threat of wildfire. Specifically, the legislation would create categorical exclusions to the National Environmental Policy Act for forest management projects that reduce hazardous fuel loads, address insect and disease infestations, create fire breaks, and regenerate early successional forests for wildlife, among others.

The legislation also includes a Cottonwood reform and would require courts to balance the short and long-term effects of action v. inaction for challenged forest management projects. Additionally, the bill would create a pilot arbitration program to require plaintiffs to propose an alternative to a project, rather than opposing a project without offering an alternative that benefits forest health.

“As wildfires increasingly wreak havoc on forests and wildlife habitat, the Resilient Federal Forests Act is a practical approach to reform federal forest management policies,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President and CEO Jeff Crane. “We are appreciative of Congressman Westerman’s continued leadership to provide innovative tools to improve forest health and increase the resiliency of forests to catastrophic wildfires.”

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