On Wednesday April 30, the House Committee on Resources passed the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 on a 32-to-17 vote. Sponsored by Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus member Scott McInnis (R-CO), Chairman of the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee, HR 1904 is similar to legislation that passed out of the Resources Committee last Congress but was not taken up on the House floor before the Congress adjourned.
The 2003 Act calls for expediting thinning and prescribed burning projects on up to 20 million acres of federally managed lands identified as being at unnaturally high risk to wildfire. To expedite implementation of fire management projects, the bill calls for a limited environmental assessment, one focused on management alternatives. The “no action” alternative, as required by NEPA, would not apply to lands identified for treatment under the bill.
Fuel reduction projects cannot occur on land designated as wilderness or in a wilderness study area, forests within the National Wilderness Preservation System or lands where congressional action or a presidential declaration prevents vegetation removal. No permanent roads can be built in inventoried roadless areas.
“The exploding threat of large-scale catastrophic wildfires and massive insect and disease epidemics combine to pose the single largest challenge facing federal land and resources managers today,” said Congressman McInnis. “The Healthy Forests Restoration Act is a balanced and comprehensive measure primed to take this daunting task head on, by empowering our land managers with the tools needed to address this threat to our air, water, wildlife and forest ecosystems.”
Last May, the CSF signed onto a joint letter along with thirty other conservation organizations urging the President to adopt a science-based forest stewardship approach, including commercial timber harvest and prescribed fire, to insure healthy, diverse forest landscapes that are so critical to wildlife. A forest system that includes a combination of young and mature ecosystems is ideal for wildlife and also helps to control the spread of wildfires.