Murray, Cantwell Introduce "Collaborative Forest Health Act"

Jun 24 2003

Legislation would reduce forest fire risk, protect habitat and public lands; Alternative to so-called "Healthy Forests Initiative"

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray joined Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Tom Daschle (D-SD), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in introducing the "Collaborative Forest Health Act" to improve the health of our national forests and public lands and reduce the risk of forest fires.

Due to deteriorating forest and rangeland conditions, many of our federal lands are vulnerable to disastrous forest fires. These fires threaten communities, property and municipal water supplies. The "Collaborative Forest Health Act" seeks to restore public lands to a healthy condition and in turn reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.

The Collaborative Forest Health Act:

Expedites Action: Categorically excludes fuel reduction projects on 20 million acres of high-fire risk areas from environmental review documentation and appeals.

Protects Communities: Seventy percent of the hazardous fuel reduction funds available must be spent on projects within one-half mile of communities or municipal watersheds.

Protects the Environment: No new road construction. Must maintain old and large trees. Protect municipal watersheds.

Helps Small Businesses: Thirty percent of the funds must be spent on projects that benefit small businesses in small, economically disadvantaged communities.

Ensures Accountability: Commission to monitor projects and report to Congress.

Insect Infestation: Provides $25 million annually to establish an insect infestation research program in cooperation with universities.

Assistance to States: Provides $100 million annually in grants to reduce wildfire risk on state, tribal and private lands.

"Communities in the Pacific Northwest and across the country are facing yet another season of dangerous forest fires. These fires threaten our homes, our property, and – in some cases – our lives," Senator Murray said. "Now is the time to provide the tools and resources necessary to help our communities protect themselves."

Senator Cantwell added, "This bill protects rural communities from forest fires, preserves public input in forest management and ensures that hazardous fuels reduction is not an excuse for unsustainable logging."

The Collaborative Forest Health Act differs from the so-called "Healthy Forests Initiative" (H.R. 1904), in four major ways:

* This bill addresses on-the-ground delays by replacing the Forest Service’s current internal borrowing practice with the ability to borrow directly from the U.S. Treasury.

* It provides $100 million to reduce wildfire risk on non-federal lands.

* It requires the establishment of a commission to monitor and report on the effectiveness of the program; and

* It requires that at least 30% of all funds be spent on projects that benefit small businesses in economically stressed communities.

"The 'Collaborative Forest Health Act' is a sensible response to wildfires, forest health, and community protection. It provides the tools and framework necessary to protect our communities in a collaborative manner. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this measure and protect our communities from preventable disasters," Murray said.