The Resilient Federal Forests Act was reintroduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, slightly altered from last year following passage of some items in the 2018 Farm Bill and an omnibus bill.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, the bill’s main sponsor and the only licensed forester in Congress, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday he will continue to “make a case for sound science being implemented on our federal lands.”

Although the House now has a Democratic party majority, there are signs the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 could find passage.

Marko Bey, executive director of Lomakatsi Restoration, was one of the Democratic witnesses in the discussion of the bill. Westerman offered Bey’s words in a statement.

“I wanted to read back the statement from Mr. Bey’s testimony. He said, ‘There is a practical solution. Through science-based risk assessments and land management strategies, there is a middle way between a complete hands-off approach — or the do nothing approach — and outdated forest management practices of extensive timber harvests that have created homogenized landscapes, making them prone to burning hotter. This middle-of-the-road strategy protects large trees and wildlife habitats, conducts ecologically-based commercial thinning of trees as the byproduct of restorative work, and reduces the risk to communities by returning beneficial fire to the landscape.’

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Westerman said. “When we do nothing, when we make the decision not to manage our forests, we made a management decision. We have to know that. The forest doesn’t care what decisions we make here. They continue to grow and fill the growing space, and a ‘no’ decision is a management decision ... It pairs targeted forest management reforms with regulatory streamlining to improve the health of forests and rangelands."

The bill also provides federal land management agencies “immediate tools to increase the pace, scale and cost efficiency of forest management projects without sacrificing environmental protections.” Westerman introduced similar legislation in the 115th Congress with bipartisan support. Several provisions were signed into law as part of the omnibus and Farm Bill packages. A couple of the items that won’t need to be included in the new bill because they have already been enacted are what Westerman calls a funding “fix” for the U.S. Forest Service, and categorical exclusions for certain forest management projects.

In a conference call with reporters this week, U.S. Rep. Bob Bishop of Utah, ranking Republican member of the House Natural Resources Committee, pointed to “frivolous lawsuits” as a culprit for hampering forest management by the U.S. Forest Service.

“We need to do more to stop frivolous lawsuits, and if we do that we will have healthier forests,” Bishop said. “The entire ecosystem is helped if the forests are managed.”

Westerman noted that due to a lack of forest management over several decades, the turnaround won’t be overnight. It could take a decade ore more. He expects to continue to see deadly wildfires from mismanagement because of a “backlog” in projects to decrease the fuel load on the forest floor.

Higher funding of state and private forestry is also proposed by Westerman, who called it “preventative medicine.”

“A lot of the land in the WUI (Wildland Urban Interface) is not federal land; it’s privately owned land, sometimes small woodlot owners that have no incentive to go and manage those woodlots,” Westerman explained.