Bill Would Expedite Fuels Treatment on National Forests

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U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) reintroduced legislation that would require the U.S. Forest Service to expedite treatment of more than 70 million acres of National Forest lands, in consultation with states, that have been identified as needing treatment to reduce the threat of insect and disease infestations and catastrophic wildfires.

“The lack of active forest management is changing the role of forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources on National Forest lands in many Western states,” said Tim O’Hara, vice president of government affairs for the Forest Resources Association.

“Tree mortality rates across the country are greater on Forest Service lands than those forests managed by non-federal public and private land managers,” continued O’Hara.

Thune’s legislation would expedite forest management that would improve carbon sequestration and storage on National Forests lands across the U.S while supporting rural forest-based economies, added O’Hara.

“Recent fire seasons prompted Congress to provide the Forest Service with unprecedented new authorities and new resources to start turning the tide on the forest health and wildfire crisis on our National Forests,” said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition.

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However, nearly 18 months later, “we’re not seeing the kind of progress needed to protect communities, watersheds, and wildlife habitat,” he added.

Thune’s bill would direct the Forest Service to use these authorities, and prioritizes reducing fuel loads on the National Forests. “The forest products sector can help implement fuels reduction on acres that are already open to management.”

The lack of active management on federal lands is threatening the continued flow of social, economic, and ecological values from federal forests as millions of acres continue to be altered by insects, diseases, and uncharacteristic wildfires, according to the National Association of State Foresters.

In 2022 alone, more than 7.5 million acres burned, approximately a quarter of which were on National Forest lands, resulting in significant carbon emissions, loss of wildlife habitat, and reduced opportunities for recreation.

The Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act would:

• Require the Forest Service to expedite treatment of forests through application of the insect and disease and hazardous fuels categorical exclusion for projects on acres suitable for timber production while providing necessary exclusions for National Wilderness Preservation System lands and roadless areas;
• Require the Forest Service to publish a report annually detailing the acres that have been treated;
• Require the Forest Service to prioritize reducing the risks of infestations and wildfires over other objectives in forest plans;
• Expand the insect and disease and hazardous fuels categorical exclusion to include certain forest lands that have been susceptible to infestations and wildfires in recent years; and
• Allow states to retain good neighbor agreement timber sale revenues for authorized restoration services on any land under a good neighbor agreement in the state.