Congressman Doc Hastings

Serving Central Washington

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Re-focusing on Healthy Forest Management

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Washington, DC, May 2 | comments

For the last four years, I’ve had the privilege to represent Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest’s interests as Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees a wide range of issues involving public lands and many of the related environmental laws.

What happens on our public forests – particularly in the Pacific Northwest – has lasting impacts on the forestry industry as a whole. To have a robust forest policy with a supply certainty, the public lands need to do their part to contribute to that supply certainty.

Here in the West, where so much of the land base is owned by the federal government, the management of Forest Service lands has a huge impact on the forest products industry. Over the last two decades, we have moved away from managing these lands for multiple purposes. Timber harvests from federal lands have dropped by 80 percent over the last 39 years as federal regulations and lawsuits have effectively shut down our national forests.

We have become accustomed to seeing far more of the landscape burned every year in deadly wildfires than we actually manage for timber production. With drought conditions widespread in many areas of the West, we could be in for a bad fire season this year. In 2012 – the last bad fire year we had, wildfires consumed more than 9 million acres. That’s an area larger than the state of Maryland.

Another area of concern is with timber harvest revenues declining and wildfires costs going up, the Forest Service has struggled to maintain its obligations to communities throughout the West.

This is why the House has acted to address these issues. My bill, the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526), would restore active management to our federal forests, while living up to our commitments to rural communities and creating over 200,000 direct and indirect jobs.

With timber production on at least half of the Forest Service’s commercial timber lands. It would also streamline the environmental process and restore needed certainty by making it harder to delay federal action through endless litigation.

Most importantly, H.R. 1526 would help prevent deadly and catastrophic wildfires by focusing on hazardous fuels reduction and empowering states to take a more active role in reducing those wildlife risks.

This legislation passed the House with bipartisan support last September, but, eight months later, the Senate has yet to act. While I would not expect the Senate to take everything that we are proposing, instead, the Senate has conducted virtually no activity on forest policy.

At most, the Senate has looked at what I would call a piecemeal bill that offers regulatory relief for one or two specific areas of the country. That is not acceptable to me or the many folks who call the West home.

A final bill must address all of the challenges in timber country, not just parochial issues. Not doing so would ignore our responsibility to properly manage our multi-purpose public lands in all states. We owe it to these rural communities across the country to live up to our promises.

I strongly encourage the Senate to take action. We can have federal forests that once again contribute in a responsible and sustainable way to a thriving forest products industry, creating good-paying jobs and strengthening our communities.

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