WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, today reintroduced the Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act. This legislation would 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 have been identified as in need of treatment to reduce the threat of insect and disease infestations and catastrophic wildfires.
“Proactive management plays a critical role in keeping the Black Hills National Forest healthy and supporting the forest products industry, which supports jobs in rural communities,” said Thune. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation that would ensure the Black Hills National Forest and other forests receive the expedited treatment they need in order to mitigate the threat of insect infestations and wildfires.”
“There is broad recognition from agencies to communities that we are facing a wildfire crisis in this country, particularly across the west,” said Ben Wudtke, executive director of the Black Hills Forest Resource Association and the Intermountain Forest Association. “Policies and on-the-ground work must reflect the immediate need to address the crisis across meaningful scales using multiple types of treatment. We have seen success across national forests from implementation of commercial harvest treatments, reducing small diameter forest components, and prescribed fires following other treatments or in otherwise inaccessible areas. We appreciate Senator Thune introducing legislation that would take meaningful action to address the forest conditions that are driving the wildfire crisis, and impacting the resources we rely on for clean water, recreation, forest products, and wildlife habitat.”
“The lack of active forest management is changing the role of forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources on National Forest lands in many western states,” said Tim O’Hara, vice president of government affairs for the Forest Resources Association. “Tree mortality rates across the country are greater on Forest Service lands than those forests managed by non-federal public and private land managers. Senator Thune’s legislation, Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act, would expedite forest management that would improve carbon sequestration and storage on National Forests lands across the U.S while supporting rural forest-based economies.”
“Recent fire seasons prompted Congress to provide the Forest Service with unprecedented new authorities and new resources to start turning the tide on the forest health and wildfire crisis on our National Forests,” said Bill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition. “Almost a year and half later, we’re not seeing the kind of progress needed to protect communities, watersheds, and wildlife habitat. Sen. Thune’s bill would direct the Forest Service to use these authorities, and prioritizes reducing fuel loads on the National Forests. The forest products sector can help implement fuels reduction on acres that are already open to management. It’s time to get serious about addressing this crisis, and Senator Thune’s bill is key to getting that done.”
“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 Kacey KC, 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.”
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 lagging in the BHNF and other forests throughout the country. In 2022 alone, more than 7.5 million acres burned, approximately a quarter of which were on USFS lands, resulting in significant carbon emissions, loss of wildlife habitat, and reduced opportunities for recreation.
The Expediting Forest Restoration and Recovery Act would:
- Require the USFS to expedite treatment of forests 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;
- Expand the insect and disease and hazardous fuels categorical exclusion to include certain forest lands that have been susceptible to infestations and wildfires in recent years; 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.
Thune, who has helped write four farm bills throughout his time in Congress, has introduced multiple farm bill proposals ahead of the current bill’s expiration in September 2023.