Daines, Forest Service Affirm Importance of Categorical Exclusions as Forest Restoration Tool

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Steve Daines today pressed the U.S. Forest Service to outline reforms needed to restore the health of the National Forest system and clarify the importance of Categorical Exclusions (CEs) as utilized by the Forest Service in forest health restoration projects.

Click here to download Daines’ questioning.

Click here to watch Daines’ questioning.

During today’s Energy and Natural Resources hearing, Daines reaffirmed his commitment to forest management reform and asked Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell about how CEs are used to expedite forest restoration projects and enhance the environment.

“I’m very determined, I’m very motivated to pass legislation that gives your agency additional tools and authorities to complete more forest restoration projects and do them faster,” Daines stated. “Can you describe how your agency takes into account both public input and analyzes environmental impacts to ensure that CEs are used to enhance rather than hurt the environment?”

“A CE does not eliminate our requirements to be able to analyze the project and ensure that we’re not having unnecessary impact,” Tidwell answered. “The key part of it is to have that public support so that you can go ahead and use this process, where we still have public comment, we still address all the environmental concerns, but there’s less documentation. If it’s the right scale and it has the assurances that some of the public needs, similar to what we did with the Farm Bill about roads, etc. it’s been a very useful tool.”

Tidwell affirmed that a CE can’t be used if there is a potential adverse impact on an endangered species or watershed, that it must be consistent with a local forest plan and that mass clear cuts would not be allowed under a CE.

Daines also pressed Tidwell for the Forest Service’s views on what additional reforms were needed to increase the health of National Forests and ensure the Forest Service is able to better implement active forest management practices.

“If by adding additional CEs that maintain the public trust – that we can continue to use that to get more work done— if we eliminate fire borrowing and at the same time address the 10-year average situation to provide a consistent flow of funds for the agency and if we can find a way to address the concerns that drive litigation, we can increase the pace and scale of the work that needs to be done,” Tidwell responded.

 Daines is a cosponsor of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which overhauls federal wildfire policy, increases funding for prevention and ensures large forest fires are treated and funded as true natural disasters. This legislation ends the damaging practice of “fire borrowing” and ensures that megafires are treated as true natural disasters. Daines’ release on the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act is available here.