While members of the House Agriculture Committee took advantage of the recess to conduct their listening tour on the 2018 Farm Bill, their counterparts in the Senate have new legislation to consider. Senator John Thune (R-SD), a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced The Forest Management Improvement Act, his fifth legislative proposal for the 2018 Farm bill.
The bill removes red tape implemented by the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA), which inhibits the United States Forest Service’s ability to prevent and control forest fires. Thune’s bill would increase the acreage allowed for a categorical exclusion under NEPA from 3,000 to 10,000, improve the environmental review process to streamline the salvaging of dead and dying trees, and expand Insect and Disease Treatment Areas. In addition to updating NEPA, Senator Thune’s legislation includes alternative arbitration mechanisms to avoid the costly litigation commonly associated with forest management projects.
There are similarities between this bill and Rep. Westerman’s (R-AR-07) Resilient Federal Forests Act in their objectives and approach to forest management reform. A critical difference between the two bills is that Senator Thune’s proposal does not contain a provision included in Rep. Westerman’s bill, which would allow the president to declare wildfires as natural disasters.