The Hill: GOP senators propose wildfire management bill

Four Republican senators unveiled draft legislation Monday aimed at preventing and mitigating wildfires by making it easier to cut down and remove trees and brush.


The legislation from Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), John Thune (S.D.) and Steve Daines (Mont.) comes amid a particularly destructive wildfire season in the West, which has prompted unprecedented federal aid and congressional attention.


The GOP bill contrasts with a bipartisan wildfire management bill that a handful of senators introduced last week.


The bill from Barrasso and his colleagues focuses primarily on trying to make it easier to remove wood and brush from forests. Republicans have long complained that when land management agencies like the Forest Service have to go through the arduous process of consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service to allow logging in areas where endangered species live or are nearby, it delays the process of removing wood and brush that contributes to fires.


“State and local forest managers need the flexibility to remove trees and dead wood that fuel these terrible fires,” Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Our bill will provide commonsense tools and cut unnecessary red tape. We must act quickly to address the risk these fires pose to both people and wildlife.”


“We must take immediate steps to improve the health of our nation’s forestland and be more aggressive and proactive in forest management,” said Thune. “I believe this legislation offers several common-sense solutions that would help solve our problem of declining forest health by allowing land management professionals to use more 21st Century land management techniques.”


Provisions of the bill would reduce the obligations of the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service, direct the Forest Service and Interior Department to create certain exclusions from environmental review for wood and brush removal, call for streamlined environmental reviews for Forest Service restoration projects and test out an arbitration process for groups to challenge permits.


The Environment and Public Works Committee is holding a hearing on the legislation on Wednesday.