FINALLY, FOREST FIRE BILL PASSES CONGRESS
The Healthy Forests Restoration Act was appearing to be just as hard to get out of Congress as putting out the final embers of a major summer forest fire in the Cascades.
It's to the credit of Democrats and Republicans in Congress, including in no small way Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., that the bill aimed at reducing the threat of forest fires passed both chambers Friday and is headed for President Bush's desk.
Healthy forests legislation, co-sponsored by Walden, was approved by the House in May. A Senate version, backed by Wyden, was passed in October.
a snag occurred this month that made it look like the bills would not be going to a conference committee to iron out differences. After Senate Democrats were excluded from Energy and Medicare conference committees, they delayed naming members to the Healthy Forests Restoration Act committee. Time was running out and it was looking like passage of this vital legislation would be put off until next year.
Millions of Americans, weary of seeing hundreds of thousands of acres of our valuable forests going up in smoke every summer, knew action was needed now. Sen. Wyden and others did what was necessary to see the conference committee convene, making Friday's final approval by Congress possible.
The healthy forests bill will not instantly halt destructive wildland fires in the United States. But it represents a significant step at getting at the root of the problem. It authorizes $760 million a year for thinning projects on 20 million acres of federal land.
The bill focuses on vulnerable forests near residential areas. Half of the $760 million must be spent on projects within a mile and a half of houses and towns. By limiting injunctions to 60 days, the bill will help prevent work on the forests from being stalled by lawsuits for long periods.
The bill is not a logging free-for-all. It provides protections for older, fire-resistant trees. Grants will be offered under the legislation to develop biomass cleared from the forests.
The Healthy Forests Restoration Act stands to benefit Northeast Oregon in many ways. Democrats and Republicans in Congress showed how they can work together to do something significant for our nation. We congratulate Walden and Wyden for the critical roles they played in the bill's passage.
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