Congress justifiably is often the target of criticism because of political gridlock, but a bipartisan bill introduced last week is a good example of what can happen when lawmakers work together.
The legislation — spearheaded by a group of western senators — will earmark more than $100 million to help communities deemed as vulnerable to wildfires to produce tools to prevent such calamities and form a program to cut down trees in areas where deadly blazes are common.
The bill will also give federal forest managers a simplified system to thin forests near cities and to complete controlled burns. The bill also institutes reviews for wildfires that scorch more than 100,000 acres.
Five western senators — Democrats Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, of Washington, and Ron Wyden, of Oregon, along with Republicans Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, of Idaho — are behind the legislation.
The bill is a settlement between a GOP urge to create an easier method to thin timberlands and Democrats who do not want irresponsible timber management efforts on federal forests.
There are no guarantees the bill will secure even a minimum of support and gain approval. Still, the legislation shows that rather than gridlock, elected representatives from our region decided to act together to try to solve a problem.
The forest management issue isn’t going to go away. Wildfires are growing larger and hotter and creating more mayhem nearly every year. For years, federal land has been effectively off limits to wise forest management techniques. Or large tracts of forests — many that demand active management — are blocked through court actions by special interest groups.
Spending years in court over an issue that should be solved through cooperation isn’t any way to manage timberland. Instead it sends the message that, down where it really counts, forest advocates are really all about personal agendas and not what is best for the whole.
This bill may not solve a lot of the issues that face our timberlands. Yet it is a good first step toward developing a common-sense blueprint to an ongoing problem.
The five lawmakers who decided to work together on this legislation deserve praise. Realistically, voters should expect this type of cooperation to be common in the halls of Congress, but it often doesn’t seem like compromise and negotiation are high priorities to federal lawmakers. The kind of bipartisan effort showed by the five senators is a good sign that the pillars of our Democracy remain firm.
In the end, the legislation illustrates that our elected leaders are aware of the timber management problems that haunt our entire region. Instead of waiting for another summer where thousands of acres are burned, they decided to do something about it. Good for them.