Too often the federal government’s efforts to manage national forests and protect communities from the destruction of wildfires are impeded by unnecessary regulatory red tape, prolonged legal challenges, and a lack of coordination between federal agencies and state and local fire units.

The Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015, recently introduced in the Senate, contains several common-sense reforms aimed at resolving these problems plaguing our forest-management system. 

The bill serves three primary purposes. 

The first is to reduce the chances of wildfire on federal land by expediting wildfire prevention projects. The Forest Service recently determined that 58 million acres, or nearly one-third, of national forests are at high or very high risk of severe wildfire. Yet the Forest Service expects to thin less than three percent of that acreage in 2015, due, in part, to increasingly drawn-out regulatory processes. The Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act would expedite the process by cutting inefficient red tape and establishing firm deadlines for agencies to propose and finalize wildfire prevention projects.

The second objective of the bill is to enhance protections for endangered species. Currently, the Endangered Species Act constrains active forest management in many areas. This has proven to be counterproductive and dangerous, resulting in overcrowding and overgrowth that pose significant threats to the very wildlife the Endangered Species Act is meant to protect. The Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act would authorize federal agencies to undertake wildfire prevention projects with the express purpose of protecting the habitat of threatened and endangered species.

Finally, the bill would provide federal agencies with more operational flexibility by permitting and expediting the use of livestock grazing and timber harvesting as part of authorized wildfire prevention projects. These are effective tools that not only promote forest health and reduce wildfire risks, but also benefit local livestock owners and generate revenues from timber sales.

The premise of this bill is simple: our forests are an asset, not a liability. We cannot expect to solve our wildfire problem by simply throwing more money at it. We must rethink the outdated laws and regulations that have led to dangerous forest conditions and overgrowth. 

By updating our regulatory framework and engaging local stakeholders, the Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act will improve forest health and provide federal agencies the flexibility they need to protect wildlife habitats and local communities