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Doing better as land stewards


U.S. Representative Raúl Labrador

Idahoans know firsthand wildfire’s devastation. The most recent example is the Cape Horn Fire near the resort town of Bayview on Lake Pend Oreille. Hundreds of residents were evacuated last week and six homes destroyed.

The U.S. Forest Service classifies 58 million acres, 30 percent of the agency’s land, at high risk for catastrophic fire. But just three-million acres are treated annually to remove the brush and timber that feeds big fires.

There’s a solution at hand.

I was part of a bipartisan House majority that approved the Resilient Federal Forests Act. H.R. 2647 will improve forest health, reduce fire risk and restore ravaged landscapes.

The bill streamlines forest management, bolsters firefighting funding and encourages timber harvest in projects developed through a collaborative process. It requires groups suing to block collaborative plans to post a bond covering the government’s legal costs should plaintiffs lose.

Environmental reviews would be shortened for logging projects designed to cut wildfire risk, fight insects and disease, protect water supplies and enhance habitat for at-risk species. Dead trees would be removed more quickly, with money set aside to pay for reforestation.

The bill would end the self-defeating practice of raiding other accounts, including fire prevention, in big fire years. After annual firefighting budgets are exhausted, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would draw from a new account at FEMA.

Overregulation of our forests has left a dangerous legacy – abundant fuels that turn a lightning strike into a disaster, including loss of life. The failure to responsibly harvest valuable timber continues to cripple local economies.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act compliments my own forest bill, H.R. 2316. The Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act sets aside up to 2 percent of the 193 million acres in the National Forest System for state and local management, which I believe will prove superior.

As stewards of the land, we can and must do better. Last week’s success was an important step forward.


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