Strengthening our Rural Schools and Preventing Catastrophic Wildfires
There are over nine million acres of federal forests in Washington state alone. Many of our communities are in close proximity to federal forests and we are all too aware of the wildfire risks these forests pose. Ensuring proper management of our forests is critical to preventing these wildfires and important to the long-term health of our forests and communities.
The federal government made a commitment over 100 years ago to actively manage our national forests and provide a percentage of revenue from that management to counties containing national forest land. However, as we are seeing in Wenatchee and Goldendale right now, the failed attempts by bureaucratic Washington, D.C. agencies to actively manage our nation’s forests have had real and dire consequences.
First, rural communities no longer have stable funding to pay for vital services. Thirteen years ago, the Secure Rural Schools Act was intended to be a short-term solution to continue to provide funding as timber sales declined. With a national debt measuring in the tens of trillions of dollars, this program is becoming increasingly difficult to finance, especially when it fails to address the fundamental problem of declining forest management. These communities cannot afford the status quo. Police units don’t have the resources to respond to emergency calls, school districts are laying teachers off, and communities are being left to crumble without funds to pay for infrastructure. A new approach is needed now.
Second, the federal government’s lack of forest management has cost tens of thousands of American jobs. In the last ten to fifteen years, it has not been uncommon to pick up a newspaper in the Pacific Northwest and read of yet another timber mill shutting its doors. Instead of people going to work managing our forests, they are heading to the unemployment lines.
Finally, lack of active forest management has caused the significant overgrowth and degradation of forest health and made them increasingly susceptible to bug infestations and catastrophic wildfires.
Our national forests can and must be managed more effectively. We can’t continue to sit idly by while wildfires rage, homes are destroyed, and lives are lost.
This week, the House Natural Resources Committee that I chair approved H.R. 1526, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, a bill that I introduced to address these problems and help save our rural communities. My bill, which has bipartisan support, renews the federal government’s commitment to manage forest resources for the benefit of counties and rural schools and to improve forest health. This is a long-term solution to put hard-working Americans back to work and to restore the economies of rural communities.
This common sense approach will help our forests remain healthy, turn forest timber into economic opportunities to produce revenue, reduce the risk of fires that endanger our homes and communities, and would increase local and state management of our forests.
I’m hopeful the full House of Representatives will soon consider this vital legislation to restore active forest management and protect American jobs and livelihoods. Our communities, our families, and our businesses deserve better than the status quo and the current failure of federal forest management.