The Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association Wednesday hailed the U.S. House of Representative Natural Resources Committee's passage of legislation to prevent the continuation of catastrophic wildfire events by improving federal forest management.
The bill, Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act, H.R. 1526, passed on a voice vote. It was offered by Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and includes prescriptive measures recommended by several western congressional members whose districts are threatened by wildfires and forest mismanagement.
PLC and NCBA said legislators' support of the measure signals understanding that forest and range management should be carefully examined to avoid further damage.
The legislation included the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act offered by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., which was introduced as a stand-alone bill earlier in 2013. Rep. Gosar's legislation would put hard deadlines on analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act in those areas with excessive fuel loads, expediting livestock grazing and timber thinning for the purposes of hazardous fuels reduction.
Beef producers said past mismanagement of forest lands and Bureau of Land Management ranges have turned grazing areas into lands full of fuel for potential fires.
Over the years, PLC President Brice Lee said, ranchers who count on the grass resources for their livelihoods have been told they must scale back grazing. Lee said that situation has been economically damaging for ranchers' families and communities.
"H.R. 1526 sets this upside-down situation straight," he said.
According to Lee, the bill also includes measures that PLC and NCBA support from other congressional representatives. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., offered the Healthy Forest Management and Wildfire Prevention Act, which was also included in the package. Tipton's bill takes further steps to reduce impediments to fuel-reduction projects brought by NEPA analysis.
NCBA President Scott George said unless Congress gives this administration clear direction on forest and range management, the entire nation stands to lose important wildlife habitat, watersheds and ag production.
"It's not just those of us in the West who will suffer if we don't put federal land management back on course," he said, estimating that 40% of the western cattle herd and over half the nation's sheep spend some time on federal lands.
"If the resources continue to go up in smoke, so does a huge portion of American livestock production. This hurts consumers everywhere," he said.