Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher is pushing for the passage of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019, this year’s iteration of a bill that would provide for, among other things, clearing trees in the name of wildfire prevention.

“It’s not clear-cutting,” Fulcher said in a phone interview with The Press. “So often, when you think of logging, you think of clear-cutting, and that’s the wrong connotation. [This bill] promotes thinning and responsible management. Our objective is to localize [forest management] as much as we can, because driving policy from Washington, D.C., just doesn’t make sense with something like this.”

Under the bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Arkansas), developing or revising a forest plan would no longer be categorized as a “major federal action” that would fall under the purview of 1969’s National Environmental Policy Act, thus speeding up the process for wildfire prevention and recovery. Fulcher is a co-sponsor of the bill, introduced on the House floor earlier this week.

“There is a significant part of [Congress] that doesn’t recognize there are states in which the majority of lands are federal lands,” Fulcher said. “In the conversations I’ve had with other representatives from the East Coast, for example, they’re shocked — shocked — to learn that such a huge percentage of Idaho falls under federal land.”

The bill also calls for lawsuits — largely generated by environmental groups, Fulcher said — to go to arbitration in a pilot program.

“Some of the people in these environmental movements filing lawsuits have never once set foot in Idaho,” he said. “What I’m trying to do, and what this bill is trying to do, is say, ‘Look, if you have a problem with how we’re managing our resources with Idaho, instead of clogging up the courts where you have no skin in the game, use arbitration. And if you use arbitration, you have to come to the table with a solution.’ They can’t just say ‘no’ and leave it at that. They have to come to the table with a solution.”

2017’s version of the Resilient Federal Forests Act, also introduced by Westerman, passed in a then-Republican-held House before dying in a Senate committee. Fulcher admits this year’s passage in a Democrat-controlled House will be more challenging.

“I’m flying a flag on this one,” he said. “Our forests are our livelihood in many parts of our state. If we can prove, even in a pilot program, that this can be effective forest management, we can save lives.”

Author: Craig Northrup

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