Forest Management and Reducing the Risk of Wildfires

As Oregon faces a rapidly approaching wildfire season, Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River) today introduced legislation to improve forest management and reduce the risk of catastrophic fires in the state. Walden, joined by a group of 18 lawmakers, authored the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019, which would make significant reforms to forest management policy across Oregon’s federal lands. 

“Oregonians and people across the West are preparing for yet another summer of air-choking smoke from yet another devastating wildfire season. We cannot allow this to become the new normal and cannot allow the status quo of failed forest management policy to continue. Enough is enough,” Walden said. 

“Studies from the Nature Conservancy and Forest Service tell us that active forest management can reduce the size and intensity of wildfires by 70 percent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that active forest management will have the largest sustained carbon mitigation benefit. 

“We should follow the science on forest policy reform to improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfire, and that’s exactly what this bill does. This legislation ensures that we are able to use proven forest management tools across all of Oregon’s forests, including in southern Oregon where we have seen the most devastating wildfires over the last several years. This bill also would ensure that we go in after a fire to clean up the burned, dead trees while they still have value and replant a new, healthy forest for the next generation. We made significant improvements to the way we manage our forests last year, but there is much more work to be done. This bill builds on that progress, bolsters the resiliency of our forests to fire, and will help grow and protect Oregon’s communities.”

The introduction of the Resilient Federal Forests Act comes after Walden last year helped pass into law the most sweeping reforms to forest management policy in more than a decade. Those reforms included a fix to so-called fire borrowing so that federal forest management accounts are not used to pay to fight wildfires. 

Specifically, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 provides immediate tools to increase the pace, scale, and cost efficiency of forest management projects without sacrificing environmental protections. Walden included provisions in this legislation that are specifically tailored for federal forests in Oregon, such as:

Streamlining project planning in southern and western Oregon:

Removes costly and time-consuming Survey and Manage requirements on Northwest Forest Plan lands. These requirements cost the agency about $21 million annually and can take up to two years to complete, delaying needed fire prevention projects.

O&C Lands:

The O&C Lands in southern and western Oregon are uniquely managed by the BLM for timber production under the requirements of the O&C Act. Timber harvests have lagged below these requirements and this legislation makes clear the O&C Act mandates at least 500 million board feet in annual timber harvest.
Improving forest restoration in eastern Oregon forests:

Removes the arbitrary prohibition on harvesting trees over 21 inches in diameter that stands in the way of land managers and local collaborative efforts to restore forest landscapes. This prohibition was issued temporarily over 20 years ago, and never removed.

Promptly addressing the overcrowded, diseased, and insect infested forest lands that pose a risk for catastrophic fires:

Streamlined planning process for projects up to 10,000 acres to treat forest stands suffering from insects and diseased trees, to reduce hazardous fuels, and to protect watersheds. To incentivize collaboration, this authority expands to 30,000 acres for collaborative or Community Wildfire Protection Plan projects that have had success in Oregon.

Ensures the Forest Service and BLM can promptly clean up after wildfires by removing burned, dead trees and replant our forests for future generations. Agencies would be required to replant 75 percent of the affected area.
Creates a pilot program, allowing some forest projects to go through arbitration, cutting through litigious gridlock by requiring opponents to come to the table with an alternative proposal rather than just saying “no”.