USA — The Public Lands Council (PLC), National Cattlemens Beef Association (NCBA) and Arizona Cattle Growers Association (ACGA) expressed strong support for the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 1345), reintroduced with bipartisan support by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.). This bill, familiar from the last session of Congress, facilitates an expedited process to reduce hazardous fuel loads on federal lands through livestock grazing and timber harvesting.
The bill proposes to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire on areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) identified as high-risk. It would streamline analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in those areas, expediting fuels-reduction activities such as livestock grazing and timber thinning. When threatened or endangered species are at risk, it would also allow for hazardous fuels-reduction projects to go forward under existing emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, it adds to last years legislation by including contract stewardship and good neighbor authority measures, which facilitate the completion of forest management projects through public-private partnerships and cooperation with state governments. PLC President Brice Lee and NCBA President Scott George agreed that the bill addresses the significant issue of catastrophic wildfire in the West by reducing administrative delays, expediting forest management processes, and encouraging better forest health and economic development.
Last year, more than 9 million acres were burned in one of the worst fire seasons this country has seen in the last few decades. In that scenario, everyone bears the burden of habitat loss ranchers, western communities, wildlife and the taxpayer, to name a few, Lee said. We hope that Congress acts swiftly and moves forward with passing this legislation, so that ranchers and entire communities do not remain vulnerable during what may be another devastating fire season this year.
George added that fires threaten both rural and urban communities and impair the watersheds the public depends on.
The red tape beleaguering USFS and the BLM when addressing wildfires is endangering the lives and operations of livestock producers, threatening the natural resources the public depends on, and hindering economic growth, said George. This bill seeks to put an end to these issues and allow for better management of public lands.
Arizona rancher and ACGA President Andy Groseta spoke to the grassroots process that brought about this critical need for a streamlined agency process.
In 2011, ACGA members developed the Save Arizonas Forest Environment plan that gained support from dozens of cities, town, counties and other organizations locally and nationally. The residents of rural America recognize the need to return our forests back to true working landscapes governed by responsible multiple-use management, he said. The Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 is a commonsense way to accomplish that and to prevent wildfires from destroying public and private lands across the West.