Washington, D.C. – White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shaun Donovan and U.S. Forest Service (FS) leadership today hosted a national media call on wildfire activity in California and nationally. House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) issued the following statement in response to the Administration’s flawed and lackluster priorities related to improving forest health and mitigating increasingly catastrophic wildfire:
“The Administration’s political posturing on wildfire is dangerous. The Forest Service is paralyzed by even the threat of litigation. When the agency spends countless hours bulletproofing environmental documents against frivolous lawsuits, less time is spent treating fire-prone landscapes to prevent the most devastating and ruinous fires. The solution to this problem is active management of our federal forests. The Administration failing to acknowledge or confront this chief barrier to healthy forests is disturbing.
“There must come a point when the growing loss of life, property and ecological carnage compels change in the status quo. More money alone, as the Administration called for once again today, is futile. Not until we provide federal agencies with additional tools to treat unhealthy forests at a greater pace and scale will we have done anything to solve the problem.”
“The House has acted to provide these tools. The Senate should follow Senator Robert's lead and pass this bipartisan solution to restore forest health."
The Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R. 2647), introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), passed the House on July 9, 2015, with bipartisan support. The bill, which did not receive a veto threat from the White House upon passage, is also part of the House-Senate energy conference. On September 14, 2016, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed S.3085, companion legislation to H.R. 2647.
H.R. 2647, if enacted, could be implemented immediately by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of our federal forests and rangelands. It simplifies environmental process requirements, decreases project planning times and reduces the cost of implementing forest projects while ensuring robust protection of the environment. H.R. 2647 also addresses “fire-borrowing” in responsible, budget-neutral fashion.
Click here to learn more about the bill.
2016 USDA OIG Report:
Reducing the buildup of hazardous fuels in forest lands has been proven to reduce the extent, severity, and cost of wildfires. In August 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report on the Forest Service's mismanagement of the Hazardous Fuels Reduction program. Key findings from the report include that the FS lacks a consistent, cross-agency process for selecting its highest priority hazardous fuels reduction projects for completion; inaccurately reports to Congress the number of acres treated for hazardous fuels, and is double and triple-counting the total number of treated acreage.
Additional Resources on Litigation Impacts:
· “If we can find a way to address the concerns that drive litigation, we can increase the pace and scale of the work that needs to be done." "If by adding additional Categorical Exclusions that maintain the public trust...we can continue to use that to get more work done.” (U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, July 2015)
· "Forest Service personnel indicated it is quite common for litigation of a single project to have implications or indirect connections to other ongoing or subsequent projects because highly interrelated issues are the basis of many cases. The duration of litigation has a chilling effect on many other projects because of the uncertainty that exists while cases remain in litigation.” (Morgan, Baldridge, Understanding Costs and Impacts of Litigation of Forest Service Projects, Prepared for the U.S. Forest Service, May 2015)
· “Western Regions of the Forest Service continue to have project implementation impeded by district and circuit court actions. Over 60 percent of Region One’s budget is spent on environmental analysis to meet and anticipate court challenges.” (Julia Altemus, Montana Wood Products Association, Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, June 2016)