Herbert, Western Caucus push for forestry reforms

Brandon Whitworth, Deseret News

A wildfire burns near Brian Head in southern Utah on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. The Western Congressional Caucus is urging bipartisan forestry reforms in response to the 2017 wildfire season, which set a new record for federal firefighting costs. In addition to overgrown forests, continued development in the urban interface increases the chances of costly wildfires.

SALT LAKE CITY — As the revegetation efforts continue in the wake of the Brian Head Fire that scorched more than 70,000 acres in Garfield County, members of Congress and Western governors are urging forestry management reforms.

Gov. Gary Herbert and Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock met Thursday with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who is pushing Congress for budget fixes after a record-setting wildfire season that topped $2.3 billion in costs.

Firefighting costs this year consumed more than half of the federal budget, leaving little left over for vegetation treatment and other efforts to reduce wildfire threats.

Herbert brought up the devastating Brian Head Fire this summer, which cost more than $30 million and took a crew of 1,800 to suppress.

“We had a very productive and pragmatic discussion about how to improve the state-federal relationship regarding the management of national forests in Utah,” said Paul Edwards, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff.

On Wednesday, the Congressional Western Caucus called for bipartisan forestry reforms and active forest management to prevent a repeat of the 2017 wildfire season, which saw nearly 49,000 separate wildfires that burned more than 8.5 million acres across the country.

Legislation to reform the way the U.S. Forest Service manages forests has been introduced in both chambers.

A 2017 inspector general’s report concluded the most “extensive and serious” problem to the health of national forests is the overaccumulation of vegetation, with accumulation rates three times higher than can be treated.

The report noted that 58 million acres in the national forest system are at high risk for an “ecologically destructive”…

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