House Republicans next week will consider legislation aimed at eliminating red tape at the U.S. Forest Service so it can fight wildfires and other natural disasters more efficiently and with fewer regulatory delays.
According to a House aide, the bill is meant to make it easier for the Forest Service to take steps such as removing dead trees after a fire and other efforts to reduce the risk of new fires, without first having to undertake "lengthy and costly planning processes." Those requirements have made the agency "overly cautious," the aide said.
The Resilient Federal Forests Act, from Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., would exclude the agency from some of these more routine requirements so it can focus on its job. A blog post on Westerman's website said the bill "aims to undo the ties that bind the U.S. Forest Service and prevent catastrophic wildfires that have ravaged western states during the last two decades."
Arkansas State Forester Joe Fox wrote to Westerman in support of the bill. "The USFS (United States Forest Service) works hard to deliver critically needed management on NFS lands, but they are hampered by cumbersome regulations, administrative costs, declining budgets, and the increasingly common practice of 'fire borrowing,'" Fox said.
'Fire borrowing' is when money is taken from the fund of one important program in order to fund firefighting in the national forests, according to an editorial on Westerman's website.
The bill would establish new methods for funding projects such as "revolving funds" which allow individual states to raise money for national forest projects to combat wildfires. Currently, the National Forest Service is required to "cover potential losses in capital expenditures by a contractor in rare cases" such as in a prolonged government shutdown. However, this bill would amend this notion allowing the Forest Services to use these funds for current projects, according to the summary.
The bill was introduced June 4 and was referred to the House Agriculture and House Natural Resources Committees. It passed the House Natural Resources Committee with a vote of 22-15 on June 11.