Both the House and Senate remain in recess until early September. This policy update includes a summary of several bills - introduced earlier this summer - that may be of interest to CWSF members.

Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016 (S. 3085)

Senator, and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry (Agriculture Committee), Pat Roberts (R-KS) introduced the Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act of 2016 in June. In short, the intent of the bill is “to improve forest management activities on National Forest System land and public land, and for other purposes.”

The bill has six titles; several of the titles and sections have similarities to the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2015 (H.R. 2647). This includes expanding the application of Categorical Exclusions to expedite forest management activities, consideration of two alternatives (action/no-action) in proposed collaborative forest management activities, expedited salvage and reforestation in response to catastrophic events, and tribal forestry participation and protection. Also akin to H.R. 2647, the Senate bill proposes to address the wildfire suppression funding problem by allowing access to emergency funds through the FEMA Disaster Relief Fund once 100 percent of the 10-year rolling average has been expended by the USDA Forest Service and the Department of the Interior. Moreover, this bill prohibits the practice of fire transfers in the future.

Additionally, section 602, State and Private Forest Landscape-scale Restoration Program, would establish a new competitive grant program that replaces the current Landscape Scale Restoration (LSR) competitive process. As written, the proposal appears to alter the mechanics of the LSR process and broaden the focus of LSR from its core purpose - addressing the most critical priorities identified in each state’s Forest Action Plan (FAP) - to instead utilize FAPs as one of several resources when crafting and prioritizing projects. In July, the National Association of State Foresters, with assistance from the State Foresters Policy Team, submitted comments on the LSR proposal and other titles within the bill to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The press release from the Senate Agriculture Committee on the bill is be found here.

Text of S. 3085 is found here.

Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act (S. 3172)

In July, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) along with Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID), James Risch (R-ID), and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act (S. 3172). The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. This measure largely resembles Section 3 of Senator Bennet and Senator Crapo’s earlier Prepare, Ready, Equip, and Prevent Areas at Risk of Emergency Wildfires Act of 2015 (S. 1997).

In short, the bill would amend Section 420, Fire Management Assistance, of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act) (42 U.S.C. 5187) to allow the President, whether or not a major disaster is declared, to “provide hazard mitigation assistance in accordance with Section 404 in any area or related area affected by a fire for which assistance was provided under this section [420].” Said another way, states that have received an Fire Management Assistance Grant (FMAG) would be eligible to receive Hazard Mitigation Assistance under the Stafford Act.

A one-year pilot program was enacted in the fiscal year 2015 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill. That pilot is being utilized by nine states and one tribe that received FMAG declarations between March and September 2015. More information on the bill and the one-year pilot program can be found in Senator Bennet’s press release

Bill text for S. 3172 is found here.