BY U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BRUCE WESTERMAN –
As many of you know, protecting a healthy economy and our state’s pristine landscape are two of my top priorities. That is why I introduced H.R. 2647, the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015. On July 9, 2015, my bill passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 262 to 167. The Resilient Federal Forests Act is common sense legislation that will benefit both our federal forests and the citizens that live near them.
The Ouachita, Ozark, and St. Francis National Forests occupy over 2.9 million acres of land in our beautiful state. These national forests are managed by the U.S. Forest Service, and they contribute greatly to our state’s natural beauty, ecosystems, and economic prosperity. The national forest system provides countless recreational opportunities, and preserves Arkansas’ pristine landscapes. It also provides many Arkansas counties with a source of revenue, which is why I focused efforts in Congress on improving forest management policies. You may click here to watch my floor speech on the Resilient Federal Forestry Act.
H.R. 2647 will cut bureaucratic red tape and protect our natural treasures at the same time. My bill makes some key changes to better manage our national forest system:
- First, H.R. 2647 makes important changes to the Secure Rural Schools (SRS) program and brings in new revenues to county governments. Counties could use a portion of SRS funding for training and emergency management equipment purchases to increase patrols on federal property. It also requires that 25% of stewardship contract revenues be deposited into the county treasury where the project occurred—meaning more money for schools and other vital services.
- Second, H.R. 2647 lays out the requirements for a salvage and reforestation plan in response to catastrophic events, such as wildfires and ice storms. Dying trees can pose a risk to public safety and forest health. My bill expedites the removal of dead trees so the timber can be sold while it is still valuable. H.R. 2647 also requires the Forest Service to reforest 75% of an area affected by a catastrophic event within 5 years. This will keep forests resilient and productive.
Finally, this legislation brings in state governments as strong partners in forest management. Some states have pledged to provide money to assist the forest service for various management projects. The Forest Service does not currently have the authority to accept this assistance. Under H.R. 2647, they will.