WASHINGTON, D.C. – The leaders of numerous conservancy groups have endorsed bipartisan legislation proposed by Rep. Blake Moore (R-UT) to bolster U.S. Forest Service staffing to mitigate wildfire risks.
The Save Our Forest Act was introduced by Moore and co-sponsor Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) on Sept. 22. If enacted, that legislation would allocate $46 million to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to fill longstanding personnel vacancies in the U.S. Forest Service.
“In Utah, we appreciate and understand the value of our lands,” Moore explained. “As fires continue to threaten our communities and natural resources, we must act to improve our ability to effectively manage these forests to ensure their health and longevity.”
The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for stewardship of nearly 200 million acres of forests and grasslands, with much of that property in the West.
In recent years, however, federal land managers have struggled with nationwide shortages of recreation supervisors, planning staff members and especially firefighters.
“While visitation – including unfortunate instances of irresponsible visitation – at national forests has increased,” Penetta emphasized, “we’ve seen a notable decline in staffing within the National Forest System.”
That problem is made worse, the congressman observed, by accelerating climate change creating hotter, drier conditions in forests that threaten nearby communities.
“That’s why I am proud to introduce the Save Our Forest Act,” Moore added, “which will fill critically important vacancies in the U.S. Forest Service to help reduce the risk of wildfires and improve our overall land management.
The bipartisan proposal by Moore and Panetta has drawn applause from the leaders of 10 national conservancy groups.
“The most effective way to take on the threat of wildfires is to stop them before they start,” according to Kirin Kennedy, deputy legislative director at the Sierra Club. “The Save Our Forests Act will help … decrease the unnecessary risk of wildfires … by boosting the numbers of recreation management staff in forests and grasslands most at risk to devastation by wildfire.”
“(This) bill will put trained staff where they’re most needed to protect our beloved national forests from human-caused wildfires,” said Randi Spivak, public lands program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The most popular National Forests are woefully understaffed and near communities that could be threatened by fire.”
Other groups voicing support for the Save Our Forests Act are the Summit Land Conservancy, Earthjustice, American Forests, the Western Environmental Law Center, the National Association of Conservation Districts, the National Wildfire Institute and the Defenders of Wildlife.