U.S. Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) and Representative Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) will hold a press conference on Thursday, April 12th at the South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks Outdoor Campus to announce the introduction of legislation to help fight the pine beetle infestation. On Thursday, March 29th, Thune and Noem introduced identical legislation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives that would require the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to respond to the extreme fire hazard and unsafe conditions in national forests that have deteriorated to dangerous levels due to pine beetle infestation, disease, drought, and fire risk.
The National Forest Emergency Response Act (S. 2277 and H.R. 4331) would authorize the "Emergency Circumstances" designation to trigger the Expedited Procedures and Activities under the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003.
The legislation would enable the Forest Service to make and implement critical forest management decisions related to pine beetle infestations and other disaster conditions much more quickly than currently allowed. The Secretary of Agriculture would be required to designate at least one national forest in each state within 60 days.
The legislation also authorizes a state forester through a cooperative agreement with a state to serve as an agent for the Secretary of Agriculture. This cooperative agreement would allow more protection and restoration on national forest land which would complement activities in adjacent state owned lands.
"This legislation will give forest officials in the Black Hills a very powerful tool in their fight against the pine beetle that is devastating the Black Hills National Forest," said Thune. "The fire season has already started and with thousands of acres of dead and dying trees and infestations rapidly spreading we are bracing for even greater challenges in controlling pine beetles in the Black Hills. I have talked extensively with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Stabenow about including this legislation in the 2012 Farm Bill Forestry Title as a path to enact this legislation as quickly as possible."
"The Black Hills are a South Dakota treasure, which is why I've been fighting since day one to save them from the pine beetle," said Rep. Noem. "As we watch these bugs devastate our forests, excessive regulations and bureaucratic requirements continue to hamstring our efforts to combat them. Our legislation will help change that by cutting red tape and getting boots on the ground faster while working closer with the state and private landowners. This is a big step in the right direction, and I will continue to work to see that our Forest Service officials and local communities have the tools needed to get ahead of the beetle."