Cattlemen and landowners are celebrating passage of H.R. 1526 in the U.S. House of Representatives which they say will improve federal forest management to prevent wildfires.
Registering their support for the bill are the Public Lands Council and National Cattlemen's Beef Association, claiming the Restoring Healthy Forests for Healthy Communities Act could save lots of ranchers from going out of business.
"This wildfire package could save the livelihoods of thousands of ranchers on or near public lands," says Brice Lee, Colorado rancher and head of the PLC. "Millions of acres across the West burn each year, leaving many communities devastated and a whole lot of livestock where nowhere to go.
H.R. 1526 includes measures to improve forest management in many ways. It would expedite the regulatory review process in high-risk areas (where fires are more probable), allowing needed fuel-reducing activities such as livestock grazing and logging to go forward without delay.
The measure also increases state and local government involvement in wildfire protection, and helps improve rural schools, infrastructure and over economies of communities by increasing timber harvests."
Critics who argue that forest clearing is an environmental negative continue to work to preserve forest floors in their natural state, a situation which landowners and ranchers feel increases the chances of massive wildfires that can devastate communities and put ranchers out of business.
"This legislation is a bright spot in an otherwise gridlocked Congress," says NCBA President Scott George, a Wyoming rancher. "This bipartisan vote (244-173) speaks to the simple truth of the matter: endless regulations and pseudo-environmentalists' litigation is creating a tinderbox. It's bad for ranchers, communities, wildlife, watersheds, air quality – all of the above.
"We need a change."
Dan Bell, Arizona Cattle Growers Association president, urged the U.S. Senate to take up the legislation without delay.
"Our public lands are producing fuel loads at an astronomical rate," he says. "We need action by Congress to allow immediate fuel reductions to protect rural America.
"We must work towards building resilient ecosystems that do not fall victim to the large catastrophic wildfires that are threatening ranchers' way of life."