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Healthy Forest Bill Clears Committee, Includes Labrador Fix for Idaho Family Loggers

 

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Tuesday | June 27, 2017

        Dan Popkey - 208.800.1565

        Todd Winer – 202.495.8546

 

HEALTHY FOREST BILL CLEARS COMMITTEE,INCLUDES LABRADOR FIX FOR IDAHO FAMILY LOGGERS  

 Provision proposed by Idaho timber families part of bill sent to full House

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A sweeping bipartisan bill to improve forest health, combat catastrophic wildfires and restore sensible multiple-use management cleared the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday. The Resilient Federal Forests Act, H.R. 2936, now heads to the full House for consideration.

The bill incorporates the Future Logging Careers Act, authored by Rep. Labrador, R-Idaho. Labrador’s H.R. 1454 extends an existing exemption for agricultural workers to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to work for their parents in family-owned mechanized logging operations.

Labrador has been working with Idaho logging families seeking to continue their legacy since 2014, when he met Tim Christopherson of Kamiah and Mark Mahon of Council. Mahon’s teen-age son was working in the woods for his dad when he was sent home by a Forest Service official because there is no exemption for family logging.

“Like farmers and ranchers, people making their living in the woods have passed on their skills for generations, making the work safer and sustaining families and rural communities,” Labrador said. “These are hard-working people doing essential work. It’s only fair that the exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act enjoyed by agriculture also apply to felling and transporting vital natural resources from our forests.”

Mahon said computer technology in modern harvesting equipment gives teenagers an advantage in operating new tools. “As a fourth generation logger, I’m glad to see this legislation moving forward,” Mahon said. “The next generation must play an integral part in sustainable forestry as we continue to improve forest practices and efficiency.”

The bill also addresses catastrophic wildfires that threaten forests, wildlife, water and human life. Labrador is an original cosponsor of the Resilient Federal Forests Act, authored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark.

“This legislation is the product of years of work in the Natural Resources Committee, where we’ve heard alarming testimony about conditions on federal lands,” Labrador said. “This bill provides immediate solutions to combat wildfires, remove dangerous fuels, replant burned forests and restore multiple-use management. Facing another dangerous fire season, Congress must act swiftly to protect public resources as well as lives and property.”

The Forest Service says 30 percent of its land is at high risk or very high risk of severe wildfire -- an area larger than Idaho. In 2015, a record 10.1 million acres burned. In the past 20 years, 349 people have died because of wildfires and in the past decade about 37,000 structures have been destroyed.

The bill’s advance was hailed by Shawn Keough, executive director of the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho, one of more than 30 logging industry groups backing Labrador’s Future Logging Careers Act.

“This bill does many positive things to break the legal gridlock that takes management away from the professionals in the Forest Service and hands it to the courts,” Keough said. “With little being done in the forests, our public lands are burning at a record pace and more wildfires reach catastrophic proportions.

“Including the Future Logging Careers Act in the bill ensures that the current generation of logging families can safely and legally train the next generation to take on the business, just as our farming families have for decades,” Keough added. “We appreciate Rep. Labrador and Rep. Westerman for their leadership on behalf of healthy forests and rural communities.”

The Resilient Federal Forests Act simplifies process requirements and reduces planning times, while continuing to protect the environment. The bill provides incentives for collaboration, creates a pilot program to use binding arbitration to resolve legal challenges and accelerates habitat improvement for wildlife.

Currently 40 percent of Forest Service staff time is spent on planning, while more than 40 percent of lawsuits against the Forest Service are aimed at blocking active management. The average Environmental Impact Statement now takes more than 4 ½ years to complete.

For more on the bill, click here.