McMorris Rodgers, Newhouse propose bill to promote proactive forest management

U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) on June 15 unveiled legislation that would set a framework for creating proactive federal forest management practices in America to help reduce the frequency and severity of catastrophic wildfires on federal lands.

The newly introduced Fostering Opportunities for Resources and Education Spending through Timber Sales (FORESTS) Act of 2022, H.R. 8091, also would provide support to timber communities for investing in educational opportunities and economic development, according to a bill summary provided by the lawmakers.

“In the Pacific Northwest, forest fires have become an unfortunate part of life, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Rep. McMorris Rodgers, who sponsored H.R. 8091. “We’ve seen in Colville National Forest how proactive management and collaboration can help prevent these fires from starting in the first place, which is progress we can build on.”

“This legislation ensures that local land managers and conservationists can continue to conduct the responsible, innovative management that creates resilient forests and protects rural communities from devastating wildfires,” said Rep. Newhouse, original cosponsor of the bill.

If enacted, H.R. 8091 also would help to reduce U.S. Forest Service management costs while ensuring the protection of United States forest resources, according to the bill’s text. 

The legislation would establish Forest Active Management Areas (FAMA) within each National Forest Unit and set an annual volume requirement for timber production within each FAMA to help manage areas that are identified as overstocked and suitable for commercial harvest, the lawmakers’ bill summary states. 

“The FORESTS Act will take what we know and put it into practice quickly,” Rep. McMorris Rodgers said. “It includes real solutions that can protect our forests by establishing Forest Active Management Areas, getting management projects off the ground by cutting through the red tape, and opening the doors for more local collaboration — all while giving back to timber communities that help make it possible. 

“This bill is a win-win, and I’m proud to lead it with Congressman Newhouse,” she added.

The bill summary also notes that H.R. 8091 would prioritize local collaboration by considering input from multiple interested parties representing diverse interests, and support timber communities by giving counties in which a project is conducted 25 percent of the revenues generated by a management project in an FAMA.

To slash regulatory red tape, the bill would categorically exclude the designation and management of FAMAs from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and would reform the litigation process to allow projects negotiated by collaboratives to utilize arbitration instead of judicial review, the summary says. 

“Active forest management is critical for reducing hazardous fuels and preventing the catastrophic wildfires facing central Washington and the West,” said Rep. Newhouse. “I am proud to join Rep. McMorris Rodgers in introducing the FORESTS Act to encourage public-private partnerships, cut regulatory red tape, and reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program our communities depend on.”  

H.R. 8091 is supported by the National Association of Counties.