(TNS) - U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the only forester in Congress, continues to push for passage of the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 to address a domino effect and funding strain on the U.S. Forest Service called "fire borrowing."
Westerman hosted a press conference Thursday with western members of Congress to address the wildfire crisis unfolding across the western United States.
"We have set a new record this year in fire suppression costs that broke the old record in 2015 that broke the previous record in 2012 that broke the previous record set in 2006," Westerman said with other members of Congress in support of the Act. "There is a pattern here, yet we fail to act. Forests continue to grow. Disease and insect infestations continue to spread. Fuel loads increase. Temperatures rise, humidity drops and fires continue to explode in unmanaged forests."
Westerman, who represents Arkansas' Fourth District, noted in his statement that multiple natural disasters have hit the United States this year, leaving "billions of dollars in damages across a large swath of land." Because Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have dominated the news, less attention has been paid to the deadly and destructive fires across the West.
There have been over 8.5 million acres "torched," Westerman said, or nearly four times the land mass of Puerto Rico.
"The fires have sent millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere in massive smoke plumes that have closed schools, killed livestock, and created serious health issues for people living near and far from these fires," the congressman added. "As a result, the Forest Service is forced to raid its management accounts in order to pay for firefighting costs, a practice known as 'fire borrowing.' This leads to less management, which foster more frequent and intense fires. Simply put, this is unsustainable. It is time for Congress to wake up and address the crisis that continues to burn as we speak."
Westerman was joined by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah, House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden of Oregon, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar of Arizona, Congressmen Greg Gianforte of Montana, Raúl Labrador of Idaho, Doug LaMalfa of California, Tom McClintock of California and Dan Newhouse of Washington.
"There is no downside to a healthy forest," Westerman said in closing. "They clean the air, filter water, improve wildlife habitat, enhance plant and animal biodiversity, create scenic landscapes, and can be an economic driver in rural communities through multiple uses including sport, recreation, and timber production."
©2017 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
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