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Labrador Calls on Congress to Restore Forest Health, Combat Catastrophic Wildfires





Wednesday | September 6, 2017

       Todd Winer – 202.495.8546

        Dan Popkey – 208.800.1565



  Northwest fires require swift action

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With massive wildfires prompting emergency declarations across the West, Rep. Raúl Labrador called for a House vote on a sweeping bipartisan bill to improve forest health, combat catastrophic fires and restore sensible multiple-use management.

In June the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Resilient Federal Forests Act, H.R. 2936, but the bill has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote. Labrador, R-Idaho, is member of the Committee and an original cosponsor of the bill, authored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark. The bill passed the House in 2016, but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.

“Public health is at risk because of congressional inaction,” Labrador said Wednesday. “The tragedy is we’ve had ample warning that federal forest management practices are failing. Once again, we’re seeing the consequences in damage to our forests, water, wildlife and communities across the West.”

Governors in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and California have declared states of emergency as wildfires have consumed nearly 8 million acres this summer. In Idaho, air quality has reached very unhealthy and even hazardous levels, forcing students inside for recess and cancellation of high school athletic practices this week. Saturday’s football game between Boise State and Washington State could be postponed if air quality doesn’t improve. On Tuesday, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality issued a statewide air quality alert banning all open burning – the first statewide ban since August 2015.

“Despite the lessons of 2015, when we saw a record 10.1 million acres burn, the Senate failed to take up the House-passed Resilient Federal Forests Act,” Labrador said. 

“These fires should be treated like all other natural disasters requiring swift action,” Labrador continued. “The legislation is the product of years of work in the Natural Resources Committee, and provides immediate solutions to combat wildfires, remove dangerous fuels, replant burned forests, restore multiple-use management and reform how we pay for firefighting. It’s high time Congress steps up to protect public resources as well as lives and property before the 2018 fire season.Failure to act simply guarantees higher risk of catastrophicfires.”

The Forest Service says 30 percent of its land, about 58 million acres, is at high risk or very high risk of severe wildfire -- an area larger than Idaho. 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 Resilient Federal Forests Act simplifies procedural 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