As wildfires ravage parts of Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming—sending smoke clear across the country to New England—farmers and ranchers in 13 Western states are calling on the federal government to put in place more effective land management practices and policies.
“While the smoke from the horrifying wildfires lingers above us, let us commit to restoring balance to land management by focusing on cooperation and moving away from the myth that ‘no management’ is sound policy,” several state Farm Bureaus and the American Farm Bureau Federation recently wrote in a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
An emphasis on fire suppression, reductions in commercial timber harvest and thinning, additional permitting regulations and livestock grazing restrictions are preventing public and private forest land managers from making much-needed, significant improvements in forests, according to the groups.
These policies increase the fire hazard and make it much more difficult to combat catastrophic wildfires, protect lives and property, safeguard water supplies and prevent the destruction of farming and grazing lands. They also threaten jobs and payrolls in many counties throughout the West.
“Our timber and ranching industries depend on these lands for a merchantable supply of wood to keep our forest products economy viable, and to ensure the sustainability of our livestock producers,” the Farm Bureaus said.
Emphasizing that forest management and environmental protection are goals that can be accomplished simultaneously through targeted, active forest management practices, the Farm Bureaus offered several recommendations for the administration to consider.
Among those recommendations are:
- Strengthen milling infrastructure by lengthening timber contracts to 20 years and establishing higher minimum annual permitted harvest board-feet levels.
- Improve intergovernmental coordination at the federal, state and local levels.
- Expand categorical exclusion eligibilities for both timber harvesting and grazing for fire rehabilitation, timber salvage and thinning, and to treat insects and diseases, among other things.
- Ensure biomass funding.
Prioritizing grazing is also important.
“Policy changes to productively use livestock grazing as a fuels reduction tool should include policy and management changes which recognize annual grasses as authorized forage to be allocated for available grazing permit use,” the Farm Bureaus added.
In addition, the administration should consider allowing flexible land management plans to guide individual actions on forestlands without duplicative administrative processes under federal environmental laws.
Providing emergency alternatives to standard National Environmental Policy Act procedures when salvaging timber in fire-burned areas would have a strong positive impact, too.
“The current system is inefficient and unworkable, and the process so slow that the value of the remaining salvageable timber plummets with each passing day spent waiting for harvest permits. In short, ways to make NEPA work more productively and effectively are desperately needed,” the Farm Bureaus wrote.
Along with AFBF, the following state Farm Bureaus signed the letter: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.
The letter is attached below.