U.S. Congressman Jay Obernolte (CA-08) released a statement on Friday, Sept. 3, following a call with U.S. Forest Service leaders to address community concerns regarding the Labor Day weekend closure of all Region 5 national forests, including most national forests in the state of California:
“The risk of wildfires across California and the West is at a critical point, made worse by the ongoing drought and poor forest management practices that have left more than 80 million acres of national forests overgrown, fire prone and in dire need of active management. Now, our businesses and our economy are suffering the result of these shortsighted policies in a shutdown of our national forests just before the Labor Day weekend. Safety must be our top priority – but the next steps are also critical. We must aid our local businesses, resorts, and mom and pop shops that will feel the impacts of these closures at a time when many are already struggling to pay their bills. We must also take immediate action to improve forest management practices across federal and state lands to ensure that total shutdowns like these are no longer needed to protect our community. I have spoken with the U.S. Forest Service on this matter, and I will continue to make sure our voices are heard on this issue,” said Obernolte.
The shutdown comes just ahead of the Labor Day holiday weekend, one of the biggest annual economic drivers for tourism economies across the state. Losses from shutdowns at resorts located on Forest Service-leased land and the ripple effect on tourism in communities surrounding National Forests are estimated to reach millions of dollars in the three counties that make up California’s 8th District alone, according to local city councils.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, as of Aug. 31, 6,959 wildfires had burned over 1.83 million acres across jurisdictions in California. The temporary closure of the Region 5 national forests is a measure designed to minimize the likelihood that visitors become trapped on National Forest System lands during emergency circumstances, decrease the potential for new fire starts at a time of extremely limited firefighting resources, and enhance firefighter and community safety by limiting exposure that occurs in public evacuation situations.
Rep. Obernolte joined 70 members of Congress in July to introduce the Resilient Federal Forests Act, a major piece of legislation to address the environmental and economic threats of catastrophic wildfires. The bill, supported by more than 85 organizations, uses state-of-the-art science to triage the top 10 percent of high-risk firesheds and simplify bureaucratic red tape associated with forest management to speed critical projects, reduce costs and streamline environmental reviews. It also incentivizes collaborative projects of up to 30,000 acres to increase the pace and scale of active management, while creating new, innovative authorities that increase tribal management of forestlands and ensure equal state participation in forest management activities.
Rep. Obernolte’s SALVAGE Act, included in the bill, improves forest management across California and the West by promoting flexibility and expediency in salvage and reforestation projects on federal lands. This would help to lower fire risks, decrease the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, and revitalize rural areas. In places like California’s 8th Congressional District, where over 90 percent of the land is publicly owned, this change in law would have a particularly large impact on reducing the threat of wildfires.