Wildfires and forest management

In many western states, California in particular, the manner in which we manage our large swaths of public lands is of the utmost importance. Whether it’s expanding the public’s access to these lands, or taking steps to prevent catastrophic forest fires that are spreading at record rates, it matters deeply to those who live there.

Last week, we focused heavily on the issue of forest fires and what we can do to prevent them from spreading. Just in California’s 1st District alone, 183,000 acres have been burned by wildfires already this year. This is a real problem that affects us each and every year and it requires immediate action. The ash from these catastrophic fires pollutes our air and water quality, destroying habitat and the people’s assets or neighboring private property. Human lives, wildlife and property are in constant danger.

I joined Congressman Bruce Westerman and many of my house colleagues at a press conference focusing on the threat of severe wildfires to our country. I supported the Resilient Federal Forests Act as it passed through the House Agriculture Committee last week, which will bring meaningful reforms to end the practice of fire borrowing and allow us to better manage our forests to prevent these fires from happening.

The catastrophic wildfires that have been ravaging our public lands are a fixable problem with a very clear cause – mismanagement, indeed non-management has left our forests highly susceptible for these fires to spread at a record rate. Fire prevention, such as thinning dead trees and removing hazardous fuel, has taken a backseat while government spends billions more to suppress fires only after they’ve gotten out of hand. Why not attack the root of the problem – massive over inventory?

These wildfires are natural disasters. But they don’t receive nearly the headlines they should. They destroy property, hurt rural economies and are a constant danger to human life, wildlife, and their habitat – but it can all be mitigated with better forest management practices.

As a step in the right direction, the Office of Management and Budget announced a request to Congress of $576.5 million in wildfire suppression funding, as well as recommending increased forest management and reforms. Many others and I have fought for these reforms for a long time. I’m glad to see the administration is listening to the concerns of those who are affected by these fires and has shown a willingness to work with Congress to fix it.

Last week, I also introduced new legislation that will direct the Office of Personnel Management to allow those who risk their lives fighting wildfires to be called “wildland firefighters.”

Each year, thousands of firefighters place themselves at sometimes great risk to protect our forests and property from the spread of these fires. They are known by titles such as “wildland technician” and “forestry technician” – vague terms that don’t reflect the scope of their duties. H.R. 3907, the Federal Wildland Firefighter Recognition Act, ensures these men and women are recognized by the proper title and terminology. When a destructive fire spreads quickly through woodlands, we call it a wildfire; those that fight them ought to be known as a wildland firefighter.

Additionally, a piece of legislation that I authored also saw movement last week, as the house passed my bill – H.R. 289, the Guides and Outfitters Act with unanimous bipartisan support. This bill helps more Americans enjoy federal lands by streamlining the approval of special recreation permits issued by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies.

The purpose of the GO Act is to help guarantee access for all people to enjoy the outdoors, even federally controlled lands. Hunting, fishing, whitewater rafting, biking, trail hikes, horseback riding and general enjoyment of the outdoors will be easier to do with less Washington bureaucratic red-tape and impossible fees to get in the way.

This is a common sense and fair bill that streamlines the permitting process and allows more local economic opportunities for the people back on their lands. This bill is in the hands of the senate now, and I look forward to a positive and timely result.

No matter which way you look at it, our federal lands are important – and it matters how we manage them. To many rural communities, the recreational opportunities that their local lands are naturally blessed with are a big part of their economy and their heritage. Likewise, better forestry management practices can quite literally save lives, our forests and even morale. These issues are important for the North State and important to me – and I will continue working hard to offer long-term solutions that will help permanently solve these needlessly difficult or even catastrophic problems.