The National Cattlemen's Beef Association and Public Lands Council Friday voiced strong support for the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2012 (H.R. 5477), which was considered by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. David Cook, an Arizona rancher and vice chairman of NCBA's Federal Lands Committee spoke to the urgency of passing the legislation in light of the millions of acres of western lands being impacted by catastrophic wildfire.
H.R. 5477 was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., with 31 bipartisan cosponsors, to address the forest health, public safety, and wildlife habitat threats presented by the risk of catastrophic wildfire on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The legislation would require the agencies to expedite forest management projects, including livestock grazing and timber harvesting, for the purpose of hazardous fuels reduction, forest health and economic development.
"Last year in Arizona alone, major fires impacted 100 ranching families and displaced about 18,000 head of cattle, burning more than 1 million acres," said Cook. "As of this week in the West, more than 25,000 fires have burned well over a million and a half acres just this year," he said.
According to Cook, decades of mismanagement of our nation's public lands have led to the dangerous levels of fuels that have resulted in catastrophic wildfire.
"By all but shutting down logging and continuously reducing grazing on public lands, the agencies are not just hurting those industries—they are causing the buildup of fuels for catastrophic wildfire," he said. "When catastrophic wildfire breaks out, there are no winners—not the wildlife, not the rural communities, not the taxpayer. That is why we are here—to support H.R. 5744, which would bring real, immediate relief to the dangerous situation on and near our public forested lands."
Specifically, H.R. 5477 would require the agencies to complete National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) analysis for timber harvest and grazing projects within 30 days when fuel reduction projects are proposed. If the agencies miss the deadline, those projects would automatically be deemed compliant under NEPA. Other requirements include ensuring that Endangered Species Act restrictions do not interfere with fuel reduction projects.
Cook urged the committee to pass the act quickly to "enact commonsense solutions to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire on public lands."