House Passes Bi-Partisan Healthy Forests Legislation: Bill Moves One Step Closer to Becoming Law

May 20, 2003

Bill Moves One Step Closer to Becoming Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House today, by a vote of 256-170 passed critical legislation to protect our nation’s forests from future catastrophic wildfires. The legislation will now move to the Senate for consideration.

“Our nation’s forest and rangeland ecosystems are in crisis,” Chairman Goodlatte said. “These precious resources are being decimated at an alarming rate by large scale catastrophic wildfire and massive outbreaks of disease, insect infestation and invasive species. With the 2003 fire season rapidly approaching it is fitting that the House today passed this critical legislation which promotes the utilization of the sound science at our disposal to create healthy, sustainable forests.”

Last August, the President unveiled a Healthy Forests Initiative to encourage active forest management that is so desperately needed to restore our forests to health. As a piece of this strategy, Congress introduced the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (“HFRA”) to facilitate the expedited administrative and legal processes necessary to ensure more effective and timely implementation of forest health projects. HFRA is a bipartisan effort with over 130 co-sponsors.

The legislation will reduce hazardous fuels on federal lands, create incentives for the use of forest biomass, assist states and landowners in protecting watersheds, address insect infestations through research, establish a healthy forests reserve program and establish a forest stands inventory and monitoring program.

In addition to the environmental costs of catastrophic wildfires there is a severe human and financial impact as well. In 2002, hundreds of homes were destroyed and families uprooted, 23 firefighters lost their lives, and rural economies which depend heavily on tourism lost much needed revenue. Collectively the Departments of Interior and Agriculture spent almost $1.6 billion in fighting fires in 2002.

HFRA will also do much to eliminate the bureaucracy which impedes forest planners from doing their job.

“This sensible legislation protects the environment and fights catastrophic wildfires before they start, thereby reducing the risk posed to our forest ecosystems and rural communities,” Goodlatte concluded.

Earlier today Goodlatte attended an event at the White House in which President Bush reiterated his support and the priority he places on this legislation.