Governors Urge Congress To Ok Forest Thinning Bill
Citing the growing number of wildfires and the damage they cause, the National Governors Association today called on Congress to quickly pass legislation to protect America’s forests by thinning trees and underbrush as President George W. Bush has proposed in his “Healthy Forests” plan. There are 747 million acres of forests in the United States, about one-third of the country’s land mass.
The governors sent their request in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, and Senators Thad Cochran, a Republican from Mississippi and Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
In their letter, the National Governors Association (NGA) said that any legislation passed by Congress and supported by the administration should be consistent with the National Fire Plan and 10 year Comprehensive Strategy.
“The issue of forest health is a national issue,” wrote Colorado Governor Bill Owens and West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, chair and vice chair of National Governors Association’s Natural Resources Committee. “The governors urge Congress to move quickly to pass legislation that will protect our forested ecosystems and stem the catastrophic wildfires that continue to plague this country.
Federal legislation should address the restoration of resilient forest ecosystems that can survive wildfire through fuel reduction and the reintroduction of fire into the ecosystem, the governors wrote.
Legislation should provide for the reduction of dangerous and unnatural forest fuels to protect communities and improve the natural, sustainable health of forested watersheds and wildlife habitat, including that of threatened and endangered species.
The governors urged the modernization of the planning process to expedite project approval, while requiring thorough environmental analysis and the protection of the public participation rights of citizens.
And they asked that any legislation passed by Congress ensure that the project appeals process is accountable and allows for timely and meaningful public participation.
The governors pointed out “the health of a significant portion of forest land is declining due to a dangerous overgrowth of trees and underbrush, caused by decades of fire suppression and exclusion of forest management activities. Catastrophic wildfires have burned nearly 19 million acres over the past three summers, forcing governors to address the issues of polluted air, water and destroyed wildlife habitat.”
Conservation groups have opposed the President’s plan, saying it is a give-away to logging companies that will be permitted to take large trees instead of just thinning overgrown brush.
Provided by theEnvironmental News Service.