U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis hopes his colleagues in Congress don't let another opportunity to improve the sad state of the nation's forests pass them by.
The Republican from Grand Junction introduced legislation last Friday that would alleviate the risk of wildland fire in western communities, watersheds and wildlife habitat.
McInnis, chairman of the House Resources' Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, proposed a plan last year that would have removed some hurdles to thinning unhealthy forests. It didn't get far.
His plan, which strongly resembled President George Bush's Healthy Forest Initiative, called for speeding up the timber-removal process.
The House Resources Committee approved the legislation last October, but the House and Senate failed to act on the measure, or any other measure to reduce the threat of wildland fire, before the close of 2002 session.
McInnis' plan did not fail for lack of support. Several Democratic lawmakers with close ties to the environmental community, including Rep. George Miller of California and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, backed the bill.
McInnis was disappointed with the outcome, but he's determined to get his colleagues to take a second look at his most recent legislation. There's too much at stake not to, he said.
"The proliferation of catastrophic wildfire and massive insect and disease outbreaks is, in my estimation, the single largest and most daunting challenge facing our natural resource managers today," he said. "It's a wildland epidemic that is going to continue to despoil our air, water and wildlife unless and until policy-makers chart a decisive new course."
His bill, entitled the "Healthy Forests Restoration Act," will do just that, he said.
He already has enlisted similar bipartisan support for his new legislation. More than 70 congressmen from both sides of the aisle have signed on to the bill. Republican Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon co-authored the plan.
The "Healthy Forests Restoration Act" would streamline what McInnis considers excessive bureaucratic procedures to implement thinning projects and prescribed burns in national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands.
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