Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Jim Risch has joined with Senator Mark Udall, D-Colo., in introducing S. 2798, bipartisan legislation to improve forest health and address the bark beetle infestation which has killed millions of acres of trees across the West.
The bark beetle is a natural phenomenon. But due to a variety of conditions - both human and natural - it and other insects are ravaging Western forests. Senator Risch and Udall's National Forest Insect and Disease Emergency Act would provide additional tools and resources to help the U.S. Forest Service slow the spread of the beetle and address the safety threats posed by dead trees. The bill does not call for additional spending, rather it would re-prioritize resources within the Forest Service to help deal with bark beetle damage.
"When I was in forestry school, I visited numerous timber stands throughout Idaho. Visiting those stands today and seeing the devastation that has been caused by the bark beetle is very sad. We are one lightning or match strike away from a catastrophic fire, particularly in the central part of Idaho where we have large stands of lodge-pole pines," said Senator Risch, a graduate of the University of Idaho's School of Forestry. "Equally important, this is a jobs bill. Infested trees need to be removed and the only way to do that is with boots on the ground. This legislation will allow the Forest Service better ways to protect our forests, wildlife and the nearby communities from fire."
"This epidemic is one of the worst natural disasters to hit the West. We have whole mountainsides covered with rust-red dead trees, and that poses unprecedented safety hazards," said Senator Udall, who has been working to address bark beetle damage for many years. "Our bill gives the Forest Service new tools and better resources to prioritize areas that need treatment without calling for new spending. It enables rangers to work with local communities to ensure the biggest threats are addressed quickly. The result will slow the spread of the beetle, create jobs and protect our communities from wildfire and falling trees."
Key provisions of the bill include:
- The establishment of "insect emergency areas" - areas defined by the Forest Service as having a significant amount of dead trees and increased chance for forest fires or a higher risk of dead trees falling on power lines or other infrastructure. Within these areas, the Forest Service would prioritize treatment and compensate individuals for removing dead trees.
- Incentives to convert the vegetation removed from forests into biofuels.
- Authority allowing the Forest Service to expedite analysis of the treatment work that is urgently needed in areas that are full of dead trees.
- Authorization of "good neighbor authority," allowing the Forest Service to contract with state foresters to reduce threats next to homes and private property, which have themselves performed treatments on their property. This program has been very successful in Colorado and Utah since it was implemented by Congress in 2000, and the bill will allow all Western states to benefit.
- Implementation and additional funding for permanent "stewardship contracting" program, which allows the Forest Service to fashion agreements to perform treatment for trees - like insect-killed trees - that may not have high commercial value.
The bill is now before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on which Risch and Udall both serve.