As Oregon faces a rapidly approaching wildfire season, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) today introduced legislation to improve forest management and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires in the state.
Walden, joined by a group of 18 lawmakers, authored the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019, which would make significant reforms to forest management policy across Oregon’s federal lands.
“Oregonians and people across the West are preparing for yet another summer of air-choking smoke from yet another devastating wildfire season. We cannot allow this to become the new normal and cannot allow the status quo of failed forest management policy to continue. Enough is enough,” Walden said. “Studies from the Nature Conservancy and Forest Service tell us that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that active forest management will have the largest sustained carbon mitigation benefit.
Specifically, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 provides immediate tools to increase the pace, scale, and cost efficiency of forest management projects without sacrificing environmental protections. Walden included provisions in this legislation that are specifically tailored for federal forests in Oregon, such as:
- Removes the arbitrary prohibition on harvesting trees over 21 inches in diameter that stands in the way of land managers and local collaborative efforts to restore forest landscapes. This prohibition was issued temporarily over 20 years ago, and never removed.
- Removes costly and time-consuming Survey and Manage requirements on Northwest Forest Plan lands. These requirements cost the agency about $21 million annually and can take up to two years to complete, delaying needed fire prevention projects.
- The O&C Lands in southern and western Oregon are uniquely managed by the BLM for timber production under the requirements of the O&C Act. Timber harvests have lagged below these requirements and this legislation makes clear the O&C Act mandates at least 500 million board feet in annual timber harvest.
- Streamlined planning process for projects up to 10,000 acres to treat forest stands suffering from insects and diseased trees, to reduce hazardous fuels, and to protect watersheds. To incentivize collaboration, this authority expands to 30,000 acres for collaborative or Community Wildfire Protection Plan projects that have had success in Oregon.
- Ensures the Forest Service and BLM can promptly clean up after wildfires by removing burned, dead trees and replant our forests for future generations. Agencies would be required to replant 75 percent of the affected area.
- Creates a pilot program, allowing some forest projects to go through arbitration, cutting through litigious gridlock by requiring opponents to come to the table with an alternative proposal rather than just saying “no.”