By TIM HEARDEN
National cattle and grazing groups are backing a bill reintroduced in Congress that seeks to expedite the process to reduce hazardous fuel loads on federal lands through livestock grazing and timber harvesting.
The Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act proposed by Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., would streamline analyses of projects in high-risk areas under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Where threatened or endangered species are at risk, the legislation would use existing emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act to allow fuels-reduction efforts to proceed.
Among the bill's supporters are the Public Lands Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which assert the bill would reduce administrative delays and encourage better forest health and economic development.
"It really focuses on the front end, putting an emphasis on prevention as opposed to what we see now, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars post-fire," said Dustin Van Liew, the PLC's executive director. "This goes to reducing the fuel loads before the fires happen."
The bill is similar to legislation introduced last summer by Rep. Mike Lee, R-Utah. The 13 cosponsors of this year's bill include Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.
"Anyone who has spent much time in the forests of Eastern Oregon knows what bad shape they're in," Walden spokesman Andrew Malcolm said. "We need to get it back in balance."
The bill comes as more than 9 million acres of forest land in the West burned last year, including 1.2 million acres in southeastern Oregon and northern Nevada, much of it government grazing allotments. Wildfires in central Washington totaled 47 square miles, and numerous blazes in California threatened hundreds of homes and prompted evacuations.
Ranching and timber advocates say the red tape that beleaguers the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management when addressing the threat of wildfires is endangering the lives and operations of livestock producers as well as natural resources.
Van Liew said he's confident the Gosar bill will pass the House of Representatives, and he said proponents are working with Oregon's Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources committee.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association: http://www.beefusa.org/
Public Lands Council: http://publiclandscouncil.org/