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Will "Resilient Federal Forest Act" Really Protect ID Against Wildfires?

Conservation groups are concerned that a bill in Congress will undermine environmental laws. (Larry Miller/Flickr)
Conservation groups are concerned that a bill in Congress will undermine environmental laws. (Larry Miller/Flickr)
November 3, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – Passed by the U.S. House and moving on to the Senate, the Resilient Federal Forests Act is aimed at protecting forests from fires. But conservation groups in Idaho and across the country say it undermines the most meaningful efforts to do just that.

Among their many concerns is the threat the bill poses to environmental laws, including greatly-reduced public input on timber projects that cover up to 30,000 acres.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League, says this bill looks to commercial logging as a path toward healthier forests, but that approach is too simplistic.

"We have been working very closely with the timber industry for years in Idaho, and we share many common goals, but just undoing decades of environmental law and removing protections for endangered species, and clear water and public involvement, is not the right way to go," he says.

Both Idaho Congressmen, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson voted for the bill. Oppenheimer says simply cutting down forests won't reduce fires, and in some cases does just the opposite. His group contends it's more effective to provide the U.S. Forest Service with the funds for projects to reduce fuel loads and maintain forests. Under the current model, the agency must pull money from those projects in order to fight wildfires.

Oppenheimer says there's a better way forward, and that forest management should be a collaborative effort.

"Another aspect is to fund the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, which has been very effective in helping to boost some of these collaborative efforts, and really making sure that the Forest Service has the capacity and the staffing to carry out a lot of the work in the woods that needs to get done," he explains.

He notes that fires are a natural part of the landscape and can help rejuvenate forestlands. But with fires becoming bigger and more frequent, efforts should focus on protecting homes and communities.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID