Federal Forest Act Prompts Burning Debate in Washington

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Lawmakers from Arkansas to Oregon are pushing for Federal Forest Management changes that they say are designed to prevent wildfires.

Other lawmakers are against these changes as they say the legislation is a give away to the timber industry. 
Supporters of the legislation say raging wildfires and the destruction they cause are a direct result of mismanaged federal land. 

"Fuel loads increase, temperatures rise, humidity drops and fires continue to explode in unmanaged forests," said Representative Bruce Westerman.

Rep. Westerman is the sponsor of the Resilient Federal Forest Act which is legislation aimed at reforming the approval process for logging on federal lands. 

"It's time for Congress to wake up and address the crisis that continues to burn as we speak."

To drive home the point, California Congressman Doug Lamalfa brought out a jar of ash left over from a forest fire. 

"This stuff right here is not only in the air, it's also getting into streams, into the brooks."

The legislation thus far is breezing through the house as it passed another committee this week.

However,  getting it through the Senate will be more difficult as some worry about about the impact.

"I don't think we can log our way out of the problems that we do have today," said Jim Furnish, a former Deputy Director of the US Forestry Service. 

Furnish says he blames climate change for the increase in wildfires and says the proposed legislation is a gift to logging business. 

"This is a return to the era of the forest service I grew up in the 60's, 70's and 80s when the timber industry had heavy sway," Furnish said. 

Representative Westerman says the legislation is based in science and on policies in states with the healthiest forests. 

With the cost of fighting fires continuing to set records, Westerman says it's time for change. 

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