House passes bill to end 'fire borrowing'

By Agri-Pulse staff

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, July 10, 2015 - The House passed a bill, 262-167, Thursday that would reform how the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) fund and conduct wildfire suppression and forest management on public lands.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act (HR 2647) - sponsored by Rep. Bruce Westerman, R- Ark. - expedites the environmental review process required for selling salvaged timber and for collaborative forest management projects on less than 15,000 acres. It also requires that 75 percent of burned areas be reforested within five years, a steep increase from the 3 percent reforestation rate the USFS accomplishes currently.

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Most importantly, the bill would end “fire borrowing” - the process in which USFS and BLM reallocate funds from other, non-fire related accounts to pay for wildfire suppression. Under the bill, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) would be allowed to transfer funds from its Disaster Relief Fund to USFS and BLM to cover additional fire fighting costs so long as the land management agencies had fully exhausted their appropriated suppression funds.

In a release, Westerman said the bill “protects our national forests through proper management practices.” He said it “creates healthier forests, cleaner water, cleaner air, and protects the lives and property of Americans living in or near our national forests.”

“This bill came with bipartisan support in the House and the support of nearly 200 groups from California to Maine,” he added. Among the bills supporters are the American Forest Foundation, American Farm Bureau Federation and numerous forest resource and logging associations.

On Wednesday, the White House issued a statement of administrative policy on the bill, saying it was “strongly opposed” to the legislation. The administration says the bill fails to adequately fund fire fighting efforts and will undermine forest restoration “by limiting public participation in decision-making.”

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