On Tuesday, August 4, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) introduced S. 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act. The bill is designed to prioritize hazardous fuels reduction projects and post-fire recovery efforts by streamlining permitting processes, focusing on projects proposed by governors and utilizing the resources of non-federal lands agencies through new and existing grant programs.
The bill would direct the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to complete three landscape-level, collaborative projects proposed by governors to decrease the risk of wildfire. Allowable forest management activities are defined as mechanical thinning, slash and ladder fuel reduction and controlled burns utilized to improve wildlife habitat, watershed quality and landscape health.
Additionally, proposed management projects would be submitted by governors to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Selected projects would be expedited through a streamlined NEPA processes to ensure timely analyses so work can be done in an expedited manner. The bill would establish a new 3,000 acre categorical exclusion to reduce fuel loads near USFS trails, roads and transmission lines. The bill would also provide relief from the Cottonwood federal court decision by establishing legal thresholds for when further consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
Finally, the bill would allow for FEMA hazardous mitigation grants to be used for the installation of fire-resistant wires and the burial of transmission wires to decrease the likelihood of wildfire ignition through electrical infrastructure. The bill would also create a new grant program through the U.S. Department of Energy to facilitate the removal and transportation of woody biomass to conversion facilities.
Reducing the threat of wildfire to communities and watersheds is a critical issue for public lands counties. The Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act would help advance necessary forest management projects in a timely and collaborative manner while preventing catastrophic wildfires. NACo will work with Senators Feinstein and Daines to pass S. 4431 and other crucial legislation to ensure better management of our nation’s public lands.