If you’re in charge of managing a National Forest—which includes dealing with land use issues, monitoring recreational activities and often supervising the process of oversight on grazing permits—what’s the biggest event on your annual calendar?
Without question, it’s fire season. No matter how diligent a forest ranger might be, no matter how active he or she might be engaging the many and often competitive constituencies that lay claim to access privileges or resource utilization under their jurisdiction, they’re still one campfire left unattended or one lightning strike on a summer evening away from disaster.
Depending on your location, the dangerous months can begin as early as April or May. In other words, for millions of acres of public lands, fire season’s already here.
That’s why a bill re-introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) takes on much more significance as the nation heads into summertime. His bill would help reduce the “fuel sources,” as foresters call the downed trees, brush, logging slash and overgrown, brushy areas that become a potential tinderbox during hot, dry weather.
Best of all, Gosar’s bill calls for judicious use of both timber thinning—which involves mostly removing smaller tree seedlings that will never reach maturity—and livestock grazing. Both activities tend to clear much of the ground cover that, when it’s dried out, not only can ignite, but serves as the way fire spreads throughout the forest.
The bill aims to expedite the challenge of limiting forest fire hazards by:
- Streamlining the analyses required under the National Environmental Policy Act
- Expediting livestock grazing and timber thinning permitting
- Allowing for hazardous fuels-reduction projects to move forward under existing emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act when threatened or endangered species are at risk
Gosar’s “Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act” (HR 1345) has garnered the support of The Public Lands Council, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association. The bill would also help pave the way for completion of forest management projects by means of public-private partnerships and cooperation with state governments.
“Last year, more than nine million acres were burned in one of the worst fire seasons this country has seen in the last few decades,” said Brice Lee, PLC president. “In that scenario, everyone bears the burden of habitat loss—ranchers, western communities, wildlife and the taxpayer. We hope that Congress acts swiftly to pass this legislation, so that ranchers and entire communities do not remain vulnerable during what may be another devastating fire season this year.”
Swiftly? With all due respect, Mr. Lee. Have you paid attention to what’s happening these days on Capitol Hill?
Especially when a bill contains provisions that impact the ESA, it becomes problematic. Although the intentions are good and the outcomes likely to be positive, the House has so far failed to act.
“This bill would put people back to work in our national forests, restore the environment, and improve public safety,” Gosar said. “It also allows our government to partner with private industry. As we anticipate another dangerous fire season, with minor fires in Northern Arizona and Colorado already taking place, Congress must act now.”
Here’s the contacts you need to reach out to if any action is to occur: Rep. Rob Bishop, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation; and Honorable Raul Grijalva, Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.
Get on the phone and tell these Members to make it happen.
Make something positive happen for ranchers who might be the victims of another catastrophic summer.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.