Washington , DC : The House today voted overwhelmingly to approve the Healthy Forest Restoration Act. Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Chairman of the House conferees, today applauded final House passage, by a vote of 286-140, saying this is a critical first step towards fixing what is wrong with the management of our public lands.
"After lots of hard work we are sending this historic legislation to the President's desk," Goodlatte said. "The last time House and Senate conferees reported a major forestry bill, today's large trees were saplings--this is the first significant forestry legislation to pass Congress in a generation. This bill creates the first real relief from bureaucratic gridlock after over eight years of legislative effort. Final passage sends the unmistakable message that the Congress favors results over process, and that achieving forest management that protects our communities, our watersheds, and the lives of countless people, outweighs partisan wrangling."
"The good news is that both bills seek to address the issues that have tied the hands of our forest managers; NEPA analysis that drags on for months; administrative appeals that spring up at the last minute; and court actions that stall projects for so long that areas proposed for treatment frequently are destroyed by fires long before the judicial process concludes," Goodlatte continued.
There are over 19 0 million acres of forests and rangelands which remain at risk of catastrophic wildfires, insect and disease, a landmass larger than New England . This bill takes the modest step of addressing the hazardous conditions on only 20 million acres of this total.
"The Healthy Forest Restoration Act will give federal land managers the opportunity to restore our forests to a more natural balance, while maintaining important environmental requirements," Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm said . "I commend Chairman Goodlatte for his bipartisanship and leadership on this important issue."
The legislation takes an innovative approach to forest health on private forest lands, creating new programs to detect and suppress such forest pests as hemlock woolly adelgid and the emerald ash borer. It also creates two new programs to help family forest owners manage their forests to protect watersheds and to help protect wildlife on private lands. Both programs use a non-regulatory, incentive based approach to promote conservation, rather than a top-down, one-size fits all regulatory approach. The final version of the legislation excluded five entire titles, and fifteen unrelated provisions that had been added in the original Senate legislation.
The Society of American Foresters praised this bill for giving new tools to forest managers to protect our forests. The National Volunteer Fire Council praised it for reducing the degree of threat faced by their members when they are on the fire line. The International Association of Fire Chiefs, along with professional wildlife managers, sportsmen, and serious conservation groups all support this bill.
Goodlatte applauded President Bush for his leadership in bringing this about and encouraged him to continue to exert leadership in this field to ensure that Federal land managers act aggressively to implement this program as quickly as possible.
He went on to pledge vigilant oversight in the Agriculture Committee to ensure that the Forest Service acts quickly to implement this program.