Senate Wildfire Bill Fails to Protect Communities

Statement From Marty Hayden, Legislative Director of Earthjustice


Cory Magnus, 202-667-4500 x 235
Marty Hayden, 202,667-4500 x 218

“The bill passed out of the Agriculture Committee today will not ensure that communities receive the protection they need when it comes to wildfires. In fact the Senate bill is even worse than H.R. 1904 as passed by the House. The ongoing failure of H.R. 1904 to concentrate federal fireproofing efforts where they will do the most good was further exasperated by the Committee’s expansion of areas far from communities that will be covered by this legislation. Apparently any federal forest on remote mountaintop impacted by an ice storm could now be a candidate for sucking up scarce resources that should have gone toward protecting communities. A General Accounting Office report of May 14 showed that two out of every three acres to be treated on federal lands in the past two years were outside of the wildland-urban interface.

“Except for a very modest provision dealing with “non-native” plants, H.R. 1904 does not provide homeowners the financial support necessary to ensure that communities are protected. This is a glaring omission as 85 percent of the lands in the community protection zone are in nonfederal ownership. Without treating these lands, in addition to federal lands within the zone, communities will not be protected.

“Instead, H.R. 1904 places most of its emphasis on undermining environmental review, weakening public participation and interfering with our courts. The judicial review provisions of H.R. 1904 are quite simply a draconian solution in search of a problem. The fiery rhetoric of the bill’s proponents surrounding litigation is simply not supported by the facts. The General Accounting Office’s most recent report quite definitively showed that less than 3 percent of the 762 hazardous fuels reduction projects put forward during the past two years ended up in court.

“H.R. 1904 contains an astounding change in American jurisprudence in its attempt to tilt the scales of justice to favor federal bureaucrats. The bill seeks to force judges to allow ill conceived and perhaps illegal logging projects to proceed by undermining the time-honored test by which courts balance the fairness of the relief granted to injured parties. Moreover, provisions requiring courts to affirmatively renew any preliminary injunctions every 45 days and pressuring courts to reach final rulings in 100 days will have the affect of forcing judges to set aside other civil and criminal cases on their dockets in order to hear cases on Forest Service logging projects. The bill’s requirement that citizens, communities, counties or states file any legal challenges within 15 days will likely end up resulting in more litigation not less as interested parties will have to rush to court to file a challenge or lose the option completely.

“H.R. 1904 should be rejected when it comes to the floor. The Senate should instead pass a bill that will indeed protect communities by forcing the agencies to treat both federal and non-federal lands areas within community protection zones instead of trampling our environmental laws, meaningful public participation, and interfering with courts.”

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