Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) introduced the Emergency Forest Rehabilitation and Restoration Act, (S. 661) as another effort in his continuing battle to address the pine beetle infestation in the Black Hills National Forest and to improve the health of federally-owned forest land. Thune's legislation includes a requirement that the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture implement necessary procedures to thin more acres of federal forestland every year. The legislation would restrict the Forest Service from purchasing additional land for the next five fiscal years and use those funds that would have been used for acquisition to finance the increased timber harvest.
"The health of our federally-owned forest land is deteriorating at an alarming rate," said Thune. "Current federal lands management policies are not keeping up with damage to our forests caused by beetle infestations, wildfires, and other catastrophes. Rather than spending millions of dollars acquiring additional land each year, the Forest Service should be using those acquisition funds to improve management on the land it currently owns, which my bill requires. Expanding timber harvests is the key to better forest health, fewer wildfires, and ramped-up management of insect infestations."
Thune's bill also requires that the Secretary determine that emergency circumstances exist for federal lands subject to the effects of a catastrophic event including insect infestations and snow, wind, and ice storms. The emergency circumstances designation makes these areas eligible for emergency alternative arrangements to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act. The bill also prohibits administrative appeals for any action classified as an emergency alternative arrangement or categorical exclusion due to emergency circumstances.
"I appreciate the pine beetle management efforts the Forest Service has implemented in the Black Hills National Forest, including last year's Mountain Pine Beetle Response Project," said Thune. "In addition to their efforts, we need to continue to reduce bureaucratic red tape and ensure large landscape forest restoration measures are a higher priority within the Forest Service and ensure adequate funding is available to treat them. It only makes sense to redirect acquisition funding to forest management, the Forest Service needs to more effectively manage the land it currently owns."
Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R-SD) plans to introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives.