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Newhouse Applauds House Passage of Bipartisan Bill Addressing Wildfires

November 1, 2017
Press Release
House-approved legislation tackles fire borrowing and addresses threat of catastrophic wildfires

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) applauded House passage of H.R. 2936, Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017. Rep. Newhouse cosponsored the bipartisan legislation to address the growing economic and environmental threats of catastrophic wildfire. This legislation would tackle the issue of fire borrowing and provide targeted forest management reforms to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of our nation’s forests and rangelands. Rep. Newhouse said:

“My constituents know as well as anyone the immense threat that wildfires pose to local communities. In just the past four years, the 4th District, my district, has seen the two largest fires in Washington state history. We have lost hundreds of homes, business, and structures. My constituents are still struggling to recover from the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014 and the Okanogan Complex Fire from 2015. We lost three firefighters that year. That truly is a high cost. Active forest management is a matter of saving lives and livelihoods, of protecting our communities, and ensuring our constituents’ healthy and safety, which is why I am proud to support this rule and the underlying legislation today.”

See Rep. Newhouse’s full remarks below.

In October, Rep. Newhouse supported passage of H.R. 2266, Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Requirements Act, to provide relief for communities struck by hurricanes and catastrophic wildfires.

Rep. Newhouse supported bipartisan House passage of similar legislation in 2016.

For more information on H.R 2936, click here.

WATCH CONGRESSMAN NEWHOUSE SPEAK ON HOUSE FLOOR TO SUPPORT FOREST MANAGEMENT REFORM

Transcript:

Rep. Newhouse: Mr. Speaker, on Tuesday, just yesterday, the Rules Committee met and reported a rule, House Resolution 595, providing for consideration of an important piece of legislation: H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017.

The rule provides for consideration of H.R. 2936 under a structured rule, with four Democratic amendments made in order, two bipartisan amendments, and one Republican-led amendment made in order.

Mr. Speaker, this rule provides for consideration of H.R. 2936, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017, a bill that is critically important to my district in Central Washington state, and to rural, forested districts like it across the United States who continue to face devastation from catastrophic wildfires as we have seen just this last year a great example of. This bipartisan, comprehensive legislation is aimed at addressing the disastrous consequences of wildfires by utilizing the tools the Forest Service and other agencies have to reduce the threats posed by these wildfires, by insects, by disease infestation, and dangerous, old forest overgrowth that serves as a literal tinderbox for wildfires. This legislation will expedite and improve forest management activities in federal forests to counteract these threats.

This legislation—spearheaded by my friend and colleague from Arkansas, Representative Bruce Westerman, who is a forester himself—is comprised of a truly comprehensive effort developed here in the People’s House. It’s bipartisan. Its bipartisan support demonstrates that the threat of catastrophic wildfires does not just impact a “red” or “blue” district—but rather poses a threat to communities across the United States.

H.R. 2936 would provide federal land management agencies immediate tools to increase the pace and the scale of forest management projects to dramatically improve the health and resiliency of our national forests, ensuring robust protection of the environment. Active management leads to healthier forests. It’s that simple.  The legislation also allows expedited review for collaborative projects in federal forests, and removes incentives for special interest groups to file frivolous lawsuits. By requiring litigants opposing active management projects to propose an alternative management option, we can instill accountability into a system that is wrought with litigation. Additionally, the legislation bolsters locally-led forest management and hazardous fuel reduction projects to improve forest health. By engaging local stakeholders, we can lessen the severity and the costs of wildfires while protecting the communities and the environment.

Mr. Speaker, another major component of our nation’s wildfire crisis is the broken system with which we fund firefighting suppression. When these firefighting costs exceed the existing budget, the U.S. Forest Service transfers funds from other vital forest management program accounts in order to pay for wildfire suppression.  I and a lot of other people in this chamber have been an outspoken critic of this dangerous, broken cycle, known as “fire-borrowing.” That also is a very bipartisan position that is taken. H.R. 2936 provides a major step forward in ending this cycle. By raiding accounts that provide for forest management programs which help prevent wildfires, we tie one hand behind our backs in the effort to both prevent and suppress these catastrophic wildfires. So this legislation will help end this longstanding problem.

Mr. Speaker, my constituents know as well as anyone the immense threat that wildfires pose to local communities. In just the past four years, the 4th District of my state, my district, has seen the two largest fires in Washington state history. We have lost hundreds of homes, business, and structures.  My constituents are still struggling to recover from the Carlton Complex Fire in 2014 and the Okanogan Complex Fire from 2015.  We lost three firefighters that year. That truly is a high cost. Active forest management is a matter of saving lives and livelihoods, of protecting our communities, and ensuring our constituents’ healthy and safety, which is why I am proud to support this rule and the underlying legislation today.

Mr. Speaker, as I have often said, we cannot continue to limp from one devastating fire season to the next. We must take significant steps toward reforestation, rehabilitation, and overall forest management. This bill, this legislation will do just that. We must begin to prevent, to suppress, to mitigate the threat of catastrophic wildfires, and the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 will be a momentous opportunity to turn around our diseased and our overgrown federal forests. This legislation is essential and desperately needed to change the current path of forest management on public lands: It’s outdated, unsustainable and dangerous.

Mr. Speaker, this is a straightforward rule, allowing for consideration of this critical piece of legislation that will help protect our rural communities and ensure that we are prepared to respond to devastating and catastrophic wildfires that have plagued many areas of our country the last few years. I support the rule’s adoption and I urge my colleagues to support both the rule and the underlying bill. 

Before I yield to my colleague, Mr. Speaker, I’d like to share one last note. Just a few weeks ago, the new Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, Tony Tooke, came to Capitol Hill and briefed some of my colleagues—me included—regarding this year’s devastating wildfire season. He reported to us that over 8 million acres just this year have burned—we’ve lost dozens of lives, thousands of homes. Chief Tooke left us with the stark fact that while more than 8 million acres burned this year—another 80 million acres across the United States are at high risk of catching fire. 80 million acres. So Mr. Speaker, if that does not demonstrate, does not show how dire this problem is, I certainly can’t tell you what does.