Tipton Wildfire Prevention Bill Has Momentum Out of the Gate

Feb 26th @ 11:16 am in News by Scott Staley

Scott Tipton pic

Congressman Scott Tipton (CO-03) has reintroduced his legislation to prevent catastrophic wildfire by restoring forests to a healthy natural state through more proactive, localized management. The Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act (H.R. 818), which received broad community support last year, has momentum out of the gate this Congress with key Western Members signing on as original co-sponsors. The bill was a central topic of discussion during today’s oversight hearing to examine state forest management in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

Tipton introduced H.R. 818 this week with strong support that includes Colorado colleagues Reps. Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn, as well as Reps. Rob Bishop (UT), Steve Pearce (NM), Tom McClintock (CA), Cynthia Lummis (WY), Don Young (AK), Paul Gosar (AZ), Raul Labrador (ID), Mark Amodei (NV) and Steve Daines (MT).  The bill passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee in the previous Congress before running out of time.

Watch video of Rep. Scott Tipton’s statement during the hearing.

In his opening testimony, Idaho Governor Butch Otter told the Committee: “We must refocus on the desirable outcomes of federally managed lands. Those outcomes include maintaining and enhancing proper environmental stewardship; enhancing fish and wildlife habitat; promoting community stability and resiliency; stabilizing land management agency budgets; improving certainty and accountability with resource management decisions; and managing federally administered lands in a fiscally responsible manner. One of the primary problems leading to gridlock in the management of federally administered lands is the complex array of statutes and regulations, some of which conflict. Some modification of these mechanisms is needed to clarify the purpose and enhance effective outcomes. But by the same token, these agencies have not utilized the tools that Congress has provided through initiatives like the Healthy Forests Restoration Act.” 

View the full testimony here.

In addition to providing states with increased discretion over the management of lands within their borders, the Healthy Forest Management Act would allow treatment projects to move forward under the streamlined review processes set forth in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003.

“This panel explained very clearly the degree to which states take active steps to efficiently and responsibly manage their forests while the United States Forest Service suffers from paralysis-by-analysis which results in lost revenue for counties and schools as wells as unhealthy forest conditions,” Tipton told the Committee. “In Colorado, federal Forest Service lands are interspersed with state and private forest lands across the state. This patchwork of ownership makes it difficult to take a comprehensive approach to forest management. While the state responsibly manages its forests, the trees on state and private lands are often adjacent to over-dense and bark beetle infected stands on federal lands, placing the entire forest in danger as well as the communities that exist there.  In order to address this problem, I have reintroduced legislation I was able to work on with many of my fellow members of this Committee last Congress—with the simple idea of giving power back to states, counties, and tribes to have a voice in the management of federal forests within their borders.”

2012 was one of the most devastating wildfire seasons in memory with wildfires burning nearly 7 million acres in the United States including more than 380,000 acres in Colorado alone, much of which was on federal lands or lands in close proximity to federal public lands. Taking proactive steps to reduce the risk of wildfires by addressing those conditions known to cause them will undoubtedly reduce fires of the magnitude experienced last year in the future.

According to the Forest Service, the agency spent $296 million on hazardous fuels treatment nationwide in FY2012 while spending $1.77 billion on wildfire suppression during the same time. It is my goal to implement policy that streamlines project approval and makes up-front investments in forest health, so that we can spend fewer taxpayer dollars fighting fires later on.

Background on the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act: 

The current regulatory framework and cumbersome red tape have inhibited forest managers from active forest management. Excessive litigation threatens projects that would otherwise forestall devastating wildfires and help restore healthy forests. While previous legislative initiatives have integrated state and local prerogatives into the management process, more can be done to give local communities situated near and in federally managed forests the vital tools to prevent wildfires before they happen, and save taxpayers the millions they cost.

The Healthy Forest Management Act and Wildfire Prevention Act gives states increased control over forest management decisions in high-risk areas on National Forest System lands and lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. By allowing governors, in consultation with county commissioners from affected counties as well as affected Indian tribes, to designate high-risk areas and develop emergency hazardous fuels reduction projects for those areas, states can better protect their communities and natural areas and help ameliorate those conditions that lead to unhealthy forests and devastating wildfires.

In the previous Congress, Tipton’s Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act was endorsed by:

Congressman Tipton looks forward to working with local communities and his colleagues in Congress to advance this vital legislation.