U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., got two amendments attached to legislation intended to speed up timber harvests on national forest land during a House committee session on Wednesday.
One amendment to the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act requires that the U.S. Forest Service give priority to forests bordering Indian reservations in need of hazardous fuels reduction, in accordance with the Tribal Forest Protection Act of 2004.
In a news release, Daines said the agency has failed to follow the earlier legislation, which has put tribal lands at risk from wildfires starting on adjacent national forests.
The second would give the Forest Service more authority to deny appeals of projects it uses under its categorical exclusion rule. Categorical exclusions are intended for small-scale or repetitive actions that shouldn’t need full-scale agency analysis before approval.
“Without this provision, decisions on important, low-impact projects conducted by the Forest Service which were once completed in five to 10 days will continue to be delayed by at least 30 days, and in some cases, up to 145 days,” Daines said.
The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday and is now headed for a vote before the full House of Representatives.
“As a fifth-generation Montanan, I know too well how devastating wildfires and the mismanagement of our national forests can be to our communities, our state’s economy and the health of our forests,” Daines wrote. “This bill will help create thousands of long-term jobs, protect our environment for future generations, allow tribes, local counties and states to have more input in forest management, and renew the federal government’s commitment to our rural counties.”
Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., authored the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act (H.R. 1526). Daines is one of 18 co-sponsors. The bill would require the Forest Service to produce at least half the sustainable yield of timber each year and share 25 percent of its revenues with local county governments. It would also streamline National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act analyses of projects.
In Montana, money coming through the now-expired Secure Rural Schools funding from timber sales totaled $22 million in 2011. That included $1.8 million to Flathead County, $5 million to Lincoln County and $1 million to Mineral County.
“While much of our forests are suitable for harvesting, we still face community-threatening wildfires each summer and almost 10 percent unemployment in Ravalli County,” Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott said of Daines’ amendments in an email. “There is much that can be done to better manage our forests, create jobs, and protect our communities from wildfires while assuring local governments have resources they need to best serve the public.”