A new law will loosen environmental review conditions on thinning bark-beetle infested forests and make it easier for states to thin unhealthy forests and restore damaged watersheds.
The bill represented the major legislative accomplishment this year of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott), whose district includes all of Northern Gila County but extends all the way along the Colorado River from Yuma to the Grand Canyon.
Gosar managed to get the bulk of his Catastrophic Wildfire Prevention Act (HR 1345) smuggled into the massive Farm Bill, which mostly extended existing farm subsidies while making small cuts in the food stamp program.
The forest health provisions included in the massive bill included the core of his original legislation, although with less sweeping provisions to streamline environmental review of forest thinning and restoration projects than the original bill.
The overall bill passed on a 244-173 vote and President Barack Obama signed it into law.
Gosar said the bill will make it easier to thin overgrown forests and salvage wood after a major fire.
“We have a forest health crisis in this country and this jobs bill goes a long way towards restoring the environment, improving public safety and putting people back to work,” said Gosar in a statement after winning passage of the law. “If we don’t thin our forests, Mother Nature will do it for us by catastrophic wildfire.
Among the provisions signed into law:
— Allows the Secretary of Agriculture to designate “critical areas” of the forest in deteriorating condition smaller than 10,000 acres in size. The designation would exclude the area from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review when the Forest Service seeks to undertake projects to do things like limit bark beetle infestations, which have affected 40 million acres since 2003.
— Allows the Federal government to strike agreements that would allow states to take charge of projects to restore forests, rangeland and watersheds. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management currently have that authority in only a handful of states.
— Allows the federal government to limit its liability when it enters into stewardship contracts to manage federal lands with private contractors and landowners.
Gosar’s district includes 48,000 square miles of U.S. Forest Service land and has seen some of the largest and most deadly wildfires in state history. That includes the mammoth Wallow and Rodeo Chediski fires, the Sunflower, Gladiator, Paco and Bull fires of 2012 and last summer’s Yarnell Hill Fire, which killed 19 firefighters.
The bill represents one of the key legislative successes for the two-term congressman in a rock-solid Republican district. Gosar has spent much of his time on investigations of the U.S. Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and the implementation of federal health care reforms.
GovTrack.us listed seven recently sponsored bills. Only one appears likely to pass according to the bill tracking service — a proposal to rename a U.S. Post Office in Prescott for former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater.
Other bills given little chance of passage include:
• HR 3661: Public Access to Public Lands, which would authorize the federal government to enter into agreements to allow states to operate national parks, forests and national wildlife refuges during government shutdowns.
• HR 357 REAP Act: Would protect password information for consumers and subscribers from the FBI.
• HR 2106: Requires the Bonneville Power Administration and other utilities to report all the costs relating to meeting environmental laws and requirements.
• HR 2025: Requires the Internal Revenue Service to fire any employee found to have discriminated against a taxpayer.
• HR 1922: Bars most foreign aid for Iran, North Korea, Syria, Egypt and Pakistan.
• HR 1798: Ensures health care coverage value and transparency for dental benefits under group health plans.