WASHINGTON – The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Public Lands Council (PLC) and the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association (ACGA) today urged Congress to provide commonsense solutions for preventing devastating wildfires by passing the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 1345), which was considered by the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Testifying on behalf of NCBA, PLC and ACGA, Andy Groseta, an Arizona rancher and president of ACGA, spoke to the urgency of passing the legislation in light of the millions of acres of western lands which were impacted last year by wildfires.
H.R. 1345 was introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to address the forest health, public safety, and wildlife habitat threats presented by the risk of catastrophic wildfire on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The legislation would streamline analyses performed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in those areas, expediting fuels reduction activities such as livestock grazing and timber thinning for the purposes of hazardous fuels reduction, forest health and economic development. Other requirements include ensuring that Endangered Species Act emergency provisions are invoked in high-risk situations to allow fuel-reduction projects to proceed.
According to Groseta, decades of mismanagement of our nation’s public lands have led to the dangerous levels of fuels that have resulted in catastrophic wildfires.
“Roughly four decades of severe mismanagement of our national forests has resulted in vast areas of public lands that have either recently experienced or are at risk of experiencing catastrophic wildfire,” said Groseta. “It has become all too clear from the millions of charred acres across the West, that the planning process currently in use by the federal agencies is broken.”
Groseta added that fires are a natural occurrence in forest ecosystems in North America and, when occurring in healthy forests, should be considered beneficial. Fire acts to remove excess debris including dead and dying trees and herbaceous material, providing sunlight and nutrients for subsequent growing seasons. He warned that while naturally occurring fire is good for healthy forests, catastrophic wildfire—a result of excessive forage and trees—causes great harm to forest ecosystems. The cost of wildfire suppression efforts for 2012 have been estimated at almost $2 billion; still, over nine million acres burned.
“Wildfires have immense impacts on livestock producers. Across the West, hay is in short supply. Thousands of head of displaced livestock have had to be shipped to temporary pastures. Dry conditions are expected to persist, delaying the recovery of burned area. Livestock owners will be forced to sell their animals or seek more lasting alternatives to the private pastures and public lands they’ve run livestock on for generations,” said Groseta. “We should be afraid of intense, devastating wildfires that span hundreds of thousands of acres—not chainsaws and cows. We urge Congress to advance H.R. 1345 without delay, to enact commonsense solutions to reduce the threat of wildfire on public lands.”