Thune urges better forest management for fire, pest, disease protection

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U.S. Sen. John Thune on Wednesday told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the federal government needs to take immediate steps to protect and promote healthy forests.

Testifying in support of his Forest Management Improvement Act of 2017, introduced in August, Thune told committee members there have been 49,000 wildfires this year alone, which have consumed nearly 8.5 million acres of forestland.

The South Dakota senator compared the current management system to Rome burning while Nero fiddled, saying the nation needs to take immediate steps to improve the health of its forestland by being more aggressive and proactive in forest management. He said his bill offers common sense solutions that would help solve the problem of declining forest health.

“Proper management of forests makes them resilient and better able to withstand fire, pests, and diseases,” said Thune. “We must allow expanded use of 21st century techniques by land management professionals – and not cave to the direct mail specialists and litigators whose misguided efforts have resulted in disasters in our forestland.

"We have the technology and know-how to restore America’s cherished landscapes back to healthy natural conditions, and we should waste no more time to use this technology to preserve and protect our nation’s forest landscape.”

Thune told the committee that over 20 years, fire suppression has grown from 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service budget in 1995 to 52 percent in 2015.

The bill would “increase current categorical exclusions from 3,000 to 10,000 acres; allow the Forest Service to take steps to rapidly salvage dead and dying trees after wildfires, ice storms, or wind events, expedite the environmental review process; and create a single Good Neighbor Authority policy by clarifying congressional intent on stewardship contracting, and providing much greater certainty for project level decisions through litigation relief.”

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