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Curtis introduces bill to help manage forest, prevent wildfires

FILE -- Rep. John Curtis speaks to reporters at KSL Broadcast house. (Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is introducing a bill called the Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2019 that he says will help solve growing economic and environmental threats of out of control wildfires.

Curtis serves as deputy Republican leader of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. He says the bill includes legislation that provides tools to streamline forest management projects that include forest thinning, removing underbrush and prescribed burns that help firefighters halt or stop the spread of wildfires.

“Last year, Utah had some of the largest fires in the state’s history. Though I was proud of my constituents who stepped up and volunteered time and resources to fight the fires, behind the camaraderie there was an underlying frustration that these fires should have been prevented in the first place,” Curtis said. “I’m pleased to support this legislation that provides tools to streamline forest management projects without having to compromise environmental protections.”

Curtis joined a group of Republican colleagues in the Natural Resources committee to introduce the act that utilizes tools that the United States Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) can implement immediately to “mitigate insect and disease infestation, prevent damage to municipal watersheds and critical infrastructure, quickly harvest wildfire-killed trees to pay for reforestation and improve the health of forests and grasslands to reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire,” a statement said Thursday.

It also streamlines environmental reviews of projects for the removal of dead trees to pay for reforestation after large wildfires, requires an Environmental Assessment for a reforestation project, and encourages and speeds wildlife habitat improvement for wild turkey, ruffed grouse, elk, deer and other “early seral” forest-dependent species.

In the Senate, a similar proposal, “The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program,” would bring stakeholders ranging from environmentalists to the logging industry to the table to create and implement plans for thinning and other preventative measures, according to one of its backers, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon.