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Policy Change is Needed to Improve Forest Health

  • Hannah Downey
  • Testimony before the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Federal Lands Hearing on Discussion Draft of H.R. ___ (Rep. Westerman), To expedite under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 and improve forest management activities on National Forest System lands, on public lands under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management, and on Tribal lands to return resilience to overgrown, fire-prone forested lands, and for other purposes.

    Main Points
    • America’s wildfire crisis is getting worse. There is broad agreement that increasing active forest restoration efforts, such as mechanical thinning and prescribed burning, will improve ecosystem health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.
    • Red tape and litigation encourage conflict and create barriers to forest restoration activities. Policy change is needed to advance positive work.
    • Partnerships with the private sector, states, counties, and tribal nations can help overcome federal capacity challenges to forest restoration.

    Large and destructive wildfires are becoming more common across the West. Although several factors contribute to this trend, the declining health of our nation’s forests is a primary cause. America’s national forests face an 80-million-acre backlog in needed restoration—a backlog that leaves our forests with excess fuels, more vulnerable to insects and disease outbreaks, and less resilient to climate change and drought. Yet the Forest Service has struggled to treat more than a few million of those acres per year on average.

    PERC supports the Biden administration’s ambitious strategy to significantly increase its forest restoration work over the next decade, including the goal of treating an additional 20 million acres of national forest above the business-as-usual rate. Meeting that critical target will require greater efficiency in the years-long process of developing, approving, and implementing forest restoration projects. PERC proposed reforms to restore national forests and tackle the wildfire crisis in the 2021 report Fix America’s Forests. This discussion draft incorporates several of those recommended reforms that would make it easier to do restoration work in high-risk firesheds, limit disruptions from litigation, and expand capacity through partnerships. Now is the time to implement proactive policies that increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.

    Written By
    • Hannah Downey
      • Policy Director

      Hannah Downey is the policy director at PERC, helping to bring PERC ideas to the policy world.

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