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Agreement skips over wildfire funding fix

This story from E&E News is especially timely. We’ve been pushing hard here at Forest Legacies on the fire fix funding as there are really bad logging provisions being proposed by Congress that would usher in massive logging on national forests, eliminate roadless and old growth protections on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, and bypass landmark environmental laws. We recently with law makers and the reporter below while in DC. This is a big push nationally to maintain public lands protections that we are involved with.

By Marc Heller and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters

Originally Published at E&E News on Thursday, February 8, 2018

The battle over federal wildfire funding and forest management will go on, given that a broad budget deal between Senate leaders failed to resolve the issue.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairwoman of the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, said yesterday that leaders pulled away from a wildfire provision in the hours before announcing the two-year budget agreement (E&E News PM, Feb. 7).

“It’s my understanding that the powers that be, if you will, just chose not to include it in this particular agreement,” Murkowski told reporters.

The measure’s silence on the most critical issue in forest policy is likely to be a major disappointment to organizations that have been pressing Congress for a new way to fund wildfire suppression and
encourage management practices that could reduce the risk of catastrophic fires.

Lawmakers have been seeking an end to the Forest Service’s annual transfer of funds from non-fire-related accounts to cover rising wildfire costs through the creation of a fund that would treat fires
like natural disasters.

But Democrats and Republicans are split on a GOP priority of scaling back environmental reviews on forest-thinning projects. That disagreement may have helped sink a deal, lobbyists tracking the issue
said, as a wildfire measure without forest management changes faces long odds in the House.

Murkowski said the two pieces are equally important. “We were trying to advance them in tandem,” she said.

However, the goal isn’t dead, Murkowski said, and lawmakers have said they’ll look to attach the issue to other legislation. Such an effort might include the 2018 farm bill, which includes programs at the
Forest Service, according to organizations involved in the issue. “That doesn’t mean that it’s off the table moving forward,” Murkowski said. “And that’s good because we still need a wildfire budget fix, and we still need the forest management reforms.”

Groups seeking management reforms and wildfire budgeting changes together had pressed for provisions that could reduce lawsuits on forest projects and speed management work by limiting some environmental reviews to either the project as proposed or no action. Those ideas have had support from some Democrats as well as Republicans. Forest policy groups made a last-minute pitch yesterday to persuade Senate and House leaders, saying in a letter, “Please exert your leadership to prevent these negotiations from breaking down. The future of our forests and communities is on the line.”


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