U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today introduced the Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act, legislation to require the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to expedite treatment of more than 70 million acres of National Forest System lands, in consultation with states, that were identified during the Obama administration as in need of treatment to reduce the threat of insect and disease infestations and catastrophic wildfires. In South Dakota alone, the USFS designated the vast majority of the Black Hills National Forest (BHNF) as a landscape-scale insect and disease area that is in need of treatment. Despite authorities provided by Congress to proactively manage national forests, on-the-ground management activities, including timber thinning, are significantly lagging on the BHNF and other forests throughout the country. In 2020 alone, more than 10 million acres burned, approximately half of which were on USFS lands, resulting in significant carbon emissions, loss of wildlife habitat, and reduced opportunities for recreation.
“Black Hill residents know all too well about the damage pine beetle infestations and wildfires can cause,” said Thune. “Proactive management plays a critical role in keeping our forests healthy and supporting the forest products industry, which generates revenues and supports jobs in rural communities. This legislation ensures that forests across the nation receive the expedited treatment they need, which will mitigate the threat of wildfires and support local economies.”
“As an increasing number of national forests are added to the list of carbon sources, there is broad recognition that unhealthy forest conditions are a primary factor driving the millions of acres that burn each year and the tens of millions of acres that have succumbed to insect infestations,” said Ben Wudtke, executive director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association and the Intermountain Forest Association. “We appreciate Senator Thune introducing legislation that would take meaningful action to address the unhealthy conditions in our national forests that are exacerbating atmospheric carbon inputs, razing critical wildlife habitat, and impacting the resources we rely on for clean water, recreation, and forest products.”
“The Forest Health crisis on our public lands cannot be ignored. When smoke blankets the entire continent, it’s clear that the old way of doing business isn’t effective,” said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition. “Sen. Thune’s legislation builds on tools enacted over the last decade and tells the Forest Service to get serious about addressing the poor health of 74 million acres of National Forest. The bill doesn’t waive a single forest plan standard or guideline, nor does it open a single new acre to harvest. This bill acknowledges the urgency of the forest health crisis and gives the Forest Service the tools to address it.”
“Our National Forest lands have realized a rapid and significant increase in forest mortality over the last 25 years,” said Tim O’Hara, vice president of government affairs of the Forest Resource Association. “The dead and dying trees in these forests provide substantial fuel loads that inevitably lead to wildfires that reverse the role of forest lands as carbon sinks to carbon emitters. Congress must provide the Forest Service with the tools and assistance that will allow them to treat more hazardous fuel acres in a more expeditious and timely manner. Senator Thune’s legislation provides this much-needed flexibility.”
“The 2014 Farm Bill provided states with the opportunity to highlight the scope and scale of the insect and disease epidemic on the National Forest System,” said Joe Fox, president of the National Association of State Foresters. “In cooperation with states, the USDA Forest Service has designated approximately 74 million acres nationwide as insect and disease treatment areas, but only a fraction of those acres have been treated. The lack of active management on federal lands is threatening the continued flow of social, economic, and ecological values from our federal forests as millions of acres continue to be altered by insects, diseases, and uncharacteristic wildfires. The Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act will do just that— expedite the critically necessary treatment of these acres.”
“Maintaining healthy forests is essential to reducing catastrophic wildfires and outbreaks of disease and insect infestation,” said Jeff Kupfer, president of ConservAmerica. “Unfortunately, our national forests have experienced an increase in forest mortality due to poor management. They are a tinderbox waiting to go up in flames. ConservAmerica supports Senator Thune’s Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act, which will give the Forest Service more tools to proactively manage forests, reducing wildfires and improving forest health.”
The Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act would:
- Require the USFS to expedite treatment through application of the insect and disease and hazardous fuels categorical exclusion for projects on acres suitable for timber production while providing necessary exclusions for National Wilderness Preservation System lands and roadless areas;
- Require the USFS to publish a report annually detailing the acres that have been treated;
- Require the USFS to prioritize reducing the risks of infestations and wildfires over other objectives in forest plans;
- Add Fire Regime Groups IV and V to the insect and disease and hazardous fuels categorical exclusion, because science and recent events have shown that these group are susceptible to wildfires and insect epidemics; and
- Allow states to retain good neighbor agreement timber sale revenues for authorized restoration services on any land under a good neighbor agreement in the state.