The fires in California and throughout the West may have subsided, but they will be back. Rep. Bruce Westerman has a plan that would help prevent these devastating fires in the future. Now he just needs to convince senators to embrace his common sense forestry legislation.
As we’ve discussed on previous TAP posts, the House of Representatives passed Rep. Westerman’s legislation that would ease restrictions on fire-preventing timber management on some public land. With the lame duck session of Congress soon to come to an end, it is highly unlikely that the Senate will approve it. That means that Rep. Westerman must start over again next year on this issue.
This year’s fire season shows why this legislation is needed. There are obviously many factors that contribute to forest fires, and the buildup of flammable material in national forests is surely one of them. Making it easier to thin forests is a responsible way to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Rep. Westerman makes a good point when he says, “in Northern California, where you’ve got the national forest, we could do a much, much better job of making not only the forests but the communities more resilient.”
His point about communities being more resilient is important, too. Many places near national forests had economies that were dependent upon logging. Over the past 25 years, as less logging has taken place on federal lands, these communities have gone through significant economic hardship. That has resulted in a lot of mills closing, something that leads to less timber being cut on private land. Rep. Westerman recognizes this problem, too, saying, “if you want to manage the forests, you need markets for the timber, and a lot of the infrastructure out West has been decimated, and there’s just not mills to take the wood that needs to come off the forests.”
Litigation over timber sales is costly, time-consuming, and common. Not only are local jobs killed by such litigation, but fewer trees are cut. The latter is, of course, the goal of many of the groups that initiate lawsuits. But this reduction in timber harvesting leaves more timber on the ground to burn. That is not a good outcome, and Rep. Westerman’s legislation would make it easier to deal with this buildup of timber when there is a fire danger.
It is unfortunate that the Senate failed to consider this legislation prior to adjourning for the year. Forest management takes years to be done properly. If the Forest Service could use the tools in Rep. Westerman’s bill, the fire danger next year would not be reduced. However, this legislation could help reduce the fire danger in the coming decades. It is necessary to begin planning now to make these fires less of a problem. Rep. Westerman appreciates this. Too bad his colleagues on the other side of the capitol do not.