The bill aims to improve forest health and provide a long-term solution for struggling rural areas
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bill authored by Congressman Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, was warmly received by the chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands during a House hearing Thursday. Labrador’s Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act permits state and local management of up to 2 percent of federally-owned forests to improve forest health, boost local economies and save taxpayers money.
“Federal neglect of our forests has resulted in dangerous overcrowding and overgrowth, stressing them to the breaking point,” said Subcommittee Chairman Tom McClintock, R-Calif., who presided over the hearing. “Meanwhile, rural communities that once thrived from the commerce generated within our forests have withered….State management can produce healthier forests and healthier economies and this legislation offers participating states the opportunity to do so.”
Labrador noted that he began work on the bill in 2011, after county commissioners from five rural Idaho counties proposed demonstration projects allowing state and local management.
“We’re trying to help them survive,” Labrador told the committee. “They’re always coming here begging the federal government to help them. They want to stop begging….This is just a small step to help these rural economies do better.”
Valley County Commissioner Gordon Cruickshank, among the commissioners who came to Labrador five years ago, testified Thursday. Cruickshank recalled the government’s promise when National Forests were established.
“When the National Forests were created over 100 years ago, the federal government sold the idea of public ownership of forest lands by promising a steady supply of natural resources for economic stability,” Cruickshank said. “I am here to say that the current federal forest management practices are not fulfilling that promise.”
Added Cruickshank: “The current federal land management regime is not working. It endangers the health of our landscapes and our communities. Counties have come together to develop a way forward. The Community Forest model and the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act provide a solution for the benefit of our lands and our communities.”
Labrador’s Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act was first introduced in 2012; in 2013, the bill passed the House.
H.R. 2316 would create “community forest demonstration areas” of at least 200,000 acres, not exceeding a total of 4 million acres of the 193 million acres in the National Forest System. Governors would appoint an Advisory Committee to oversee management under state forest practices laws. The committee must include representatives from local government, recreational users, the forest products industry and grazing or other permit holders.
Hunting and fishing rights, as well as other recreational uses and tribal rights, will be protected. Federally designated wilderness areas would be exempt from the pilot programs. The Forest Service would receive a portion of revenues and retain responsibility for firefighting.