U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, at the invitation of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), discussed his Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017, which he introduced earlier this year. This legislation would make several improvements to the forestry title of the farm bill by increasing the effectiveness of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act and improving the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which would help simplify and improve federal forest management.
Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“Chairman Barrasso and Ranking Member Carper, I appreciate the invitation and opportunity to speak today on behalf of a bill I introduced in August, Senate Bill 1731, ‘The Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017.’
“Mr. Chairman, we’ve all heard the saying ‘Nero fiddled while Rome burned.’
“This happened in A.D. 64, when for six days and seven nights the citizens of ancient Rome watched helplessly as their city burned.
“Fast forward to 2017 and we have a familiar scene.
“Since January 1, 2017, through today, Americans have watched 49,000 fires burn more than 8.4 million acres of forestland.
“According to the U.S. Forest Service, since 2000, wildfires have burned an average of 6.9 million acres every year.
“Mr. Chairman, after nearly a quarter century of hands-off management, fire suppression costs have grown from 16 percent of the Forest Service annual budget in 1995 to 52 percent of the Forest Service annual budget in 2015.
“We must take immediate steps to improve the health of our nation’s forestland by being much more aggressive and proactive in forest management.
“Because forest fires are occurring on a large scale across the Western United States, proactive management to protect our forests must be initiated on a large scale.
“Mr. Chairman, I believe my bill being discussed here today offers common sense solutions that would help solve our problem of declining forest health.
“In short, my bill would: increase current categorical exclusions from 3,000 to 10,000 acres; allow the Forest Service to take steps to rapidly salvage dead and dying trees after wildfires, ice storms, or wind events, expedite the environmental review process; and create a single Good Neighbor Authority policy by clarifying congressional intent on stewardship contracting, and providing much greater certainty for project level decisions through litigation relief.
“Proper management of forests makes them resilient and better able to withstand fire, pests, and diseases.
“We must allow expanded use of 21st Century techniques by land management professionals – and not cave to the direct mail specialists and litigators whose misguided efforts have resulted in disasters in our forestland.
“We have the technology and know-how to restore America’s cherished landscapes back to healthy natural conditions, and we should waste no more time to use this technology to preserve and protect our nation’s forest landscape.
“I urge my colleagues to support this bill and thank you Mr. Chairman and ranking member for bringing S. 1731 before this committee and inviting me to speak on behalf of this important legislation.”