Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, along with Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), introduced legislation today to help the U.S. Forest Service treat insect and disease epidemics and promote overall forest health. The bill would direct USFS to treat one or more subwatersheds on all National Forests that that are experiencing certain thresholds of insect epidemics or diseases that impair forest health.
"As the largest pine beetle epidemic in recorded history continues to spread, it's clear that we need to treat more acres of insect-ravaged forest more intensely and effectively," Udall said. "This bill would broaden the authorities to treat insect infestations on public lands so that we can better protect our natural resources and critical infrastructure while reducing the fuel loads that contribute to wildfires."
"A warming climate and a persistent drought are hurting our forests in Colorado, where so much of our state's economy depends on the health and vitality of our lands and water. Last summer's devastating wildfires showed us how important it is to let the Forest Service actively manage our impaired and overgrown forests without Washington tying their hands behind their back," Bennet said. "This bill will help the Forest Service make expedited forest management decisions and target scarce resources towards the areas that pose the biggest threats to infrastructure and public health and safety."
"This bill builds on the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to provide more tools to combat threats to forests from insects and disease," Wyden said. "Significantly, it would ensure continued protections for old growth and large trees, which were essential to my support to help pass the Healthy Forests Restoration Act in the Senate a decade ago."
"Montana timber jobs rely on smart policies to address one of the worst bark beetle kills in the nation. This is a commonsense plan to give the Forest Service tools to improve forest health as we work on ways to prop up our loggers and small timber mills," Baucus said.
In 2012, over 15 million acres of forests across the nation were inventoried as having sustained damage from insects and diseases. In Colorado alone, over 800,000 acres were inventoried as damaged by the ongoing beetle epidemic. It is estimated that over the next 15 years, 58 million acres are at risk in the continental United States.
The National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act would create a program to designate new national forest acreage for expedited treatments of acreage suffering from insect and disease epidemics. The treatments that would be carried out under the authorities provided in the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003. The Agriculture Secretary, in consultation with state officials, would designate at least one subwatershed on at least one national forest in each state that is experiencing these forest health challenges.
Areas treated through the pilot program would prioritize the preservation of old-growth and large trees, if possible, while still promoting forests that are resistant to insect and disease damage.
Bennet is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Natural Resources, whose jurisdiction includes the policies that manage all 193 million acres of public lands controlled by the USFS.