Senators support forest restoration
Dianne Stallings email@example.com
New Mexico's two senators joined forced to introduce legislation aimed at large-scale national forest restoration projects with an eye toward reducing wildfires, restoring ecosystems and creating jobs.
U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici, the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, submitted the Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 Tuesday.
Bingaman, a Democrat, and Domenici, a Republican, said the legislation would authorize $40 million annually for landscape-scale forest restoration projects that cover 50,000 acres or more.
Competitive grants would be awarded to restoration projects that are developed in collaboration with local communities. Eligible projects must be in need of ecosystem restoration, utilize the best-available science, encourage the use of restoration byproducts such as woody biomass and be located primarily on National Forest System land.
All of those issues appear tailored to the Lincoln National Forest around the village of Ruidoso, a wildland-urban interface area considered most at risk in the state. In response to a series of threatening wildland fires, the village council approved ordinances covering new construction,
forest management and vacant lots. Local efforts also spawned innovative businesses utilizing biomass energy generation and products created from small-diameter trees.
Officials with the Smokey Bear Ranger District of the national forest targeted portions of federal land for fuel reduction and forest restoration treatment, but in smaller projects than the proposed bill envisions.
"This bill offers a unique approach to conducting comprehensive ecosystem restoration at a landscape scale," Bingaman said. "We're now spending billions of dollars a year trying to suppress wildland fires, and this bill will help us get a better handle on controlling those costs. It also will help to make the restoration economy a reality by encouraging the use of restoration byproducts. Healthier forest ecosystems and communities will result."
Domenici added that, "Every year, we see millions of acres of land destroyed by forest fires. These fires far outpace our ability to treat land. Too often, they threaten homes and communities, and ultimately result in millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants added to our atmosphere. This bill is another step in our efforts to increase treatments to federal lands in order to decrease the intensity of wildfires. I look forward to working together with my fellow cosponsors to get this bill adopted."
Conceptually, the senators said the bill is similar to the Community Forest Restoration Act, legislation Bingaman wrote and Domenici supported. As a result of the measure, which was enacted in 2007, millions of dollars was invested in small-scale forest restoration projects in New Mexico. But this legislation, developed by the New Mexico lawmakers with U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), would allow the state to compete for bigger grants and treat significantly larger pieces of land.
The Forest Landscape Restoration Act of 2008 was referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A hearing on the bill will be scheduled for spring.